Success Stories

Susan Michal   |   Portrait Artist   |   Jacksonville FL   |   Website

As an LA-based professional vocalist and keyboard musician who performed throughout the country and abroad, Susan Michal quickly learned how to "work a room." When she decided to change careers in her mid 30's, Susan's performance skills and her innate ability to form relationships wherever she went, helped to propel her to the top of the portrait/wedding industry. Today Susan operates her portrait/wedding photography business in the bustling city of Jacksonville, and she is happy that she followed her calling to photography.

I can't get the information I need to stay on top of my business without SuccessWare.— And this information is essential to business success."
Susan Michal

A New Direction

"In LA," she explains, "I hung out with movie industry friends, which allowed me to visit movie sets. I was fascinated with how they worked the lights and the cameras, so I began taking community college courses in photography — about 15 in all. The idea of a photography career had crossed my mind, because it would afford me a similar lifestyle to what I was accustomed to — setting my own hours, getting my own work and such. And I also knew that I could take the rigors of being a performance musician for only so long."

Shortly after she decided to move to Florida, Susan fell into an opportunity to create a calendar for Wal-Mart, which featured her hand-colored black-and-white images of children. That was enough to convince her to commit to this new direction in her life.

"Hustling Gigs"

She immediately began to book weddings in the Jacksonville area and at other popular wedding destinations. "A lot of the local photographers couldn't figure out how I got those jobs so fast," she recalled. "The fact is I had been singing in some of the top venues in Jacksonville for 10 years, so I had already established relationships with these places. From my music career, I knew how to 'hustle a gig,'" she says with a smile.

A "People" Person

Susan points to several factors that she attributes to making her business a success. First is her well-developed people skills: "From living and working in LA," she recalls, "I had learned how to work with and speak to all kinds of people, including upscale families who are likely to make ideal consumers for portrait and wedding photography. These skills helped me so much at the beginning of my photography career. Essentially I was using the same skills, but with a different art form."

Debt-Free Manifesto

A second business success factor is something that Susan feels very passionate about: "From the beginning of my business I didn't go into debt, and today I remain debt free, other than my business building mortgage. One reason I can afford that mortgage, is because I have no debt. Right now, in an uncertain economy, that's a really nice place to be. I've never experienced the desperation of 'needing' that next sale. I believe clients can sense when a business is under stress, and it interferes with their confidence in you. My dad ran a small business, and I grew up hearing that 'you can't spend more than you make,' and I took that message to heart. This is a tough lesson for many photographers to learn, and a lot of my photographer friends rib me when I pay cash for a $10,000 camera. But I know it is absolutely the best way rather than living on a bunch of credit cards. This is one of the areas of my business where SuccessWare really makes a difference — helping me keep my expenses under control."

The Importance of Integrity

Susan also believes that a sense of business integrity is vital if you are to be successful in photography over the long term. "I have a very open relationship with my clients," Susan explains. "I work very hard to build a sense of integrity with them. I want them to understand that I would never do anything to harm them or destroy my relationship with them. I take care of my clients: I don't pander to them, but I work hard to show them the respect I would want to receive if I were dealing with their business. At the end of the day, integrity is the most important thing I can offer to my clients."

Computer Phobia

With such a well-defined business success path, it is interesting to note that one aspect of Susan's transition to the world of photography presented a significant roadblock: learning to conquer the computer and the many software applications needed to automate a business. "I'm simply not a computer person," Susan declares.

One of Susan's most important computer battles was waged at a Florida school class in 2000, when she encountered financial software for the first time. The class was taught by management expert Ann Monteith and Judy Grann of SuccessWare. "Judy and Ann had us enter our business numbers into SuccessWare," she explains. "I was scared to death because Ann was going around the room, looking at our numbers, then pushing a button on the computer that would tell us how much money we were making or losing. I was praying to God that I would not be one of the people who burst out in tears when they saw their numbers. I was so relieved when Ann said, 'I'm glad to see that you are making a profit.' I was luckier than most, because I was keeping my expenses under control and, by studying with Jeff Lubin and Tim Kelly, I had learned how to price my work appropriately."

Software Insights

Susan, however, did receive several revelations during her class work with SuccessWare: "I learned that 70% of my business was coming from portrait clients, that 70% of those clients were purchasing wall portraits, and that by far my best profit margins came from selling wall portraits. All this information was new to me, and it was the beginning of my understanding about how to best manage my business."

After the class, Susan — the non-computer person — installed SuccessWare and began to do battle. "At first I was overwhelmed," she remembers, "simply because I didn't understand how computers worked. Now I look back and laugh at functions that I thought were difficult then. Today they are second nature to me. I knew that I had to make a commitment to learn the software so that my business could benefit from automation. When colleagues ask me why I don't just use QuickBooks, the answer is simple: I can't get the information I need to stay on top of my business without SuccessWare. I tell them that SuccessWare definitely asks for more information because it gives you more information. And this information is essential to business success."

A Perfect Match

Susan also stresses how important it is to her that SuccessWare is a company that understands the business of photography. "Even more important," she says, "is that as our industry moves forward, SuccessWare moves forward as well. They are constantly upgrading their software to make things easier for us and to reflect industry changes." Susan cites the fact that SuccessWare now fully integrates with ProSelect sales and production software as making a huge improvement in her studio's workflow: "Being able to use these two great tools in a seamless link has literally changed my life by saving so many hours each week and making me a more effective business person."

Giving Back

One of the great benefits of having a smoothly running business is that it allows Susan to participate in charitable activities that she believes in and that provide her business with positive community exposure. She credits the relationships that she has established through these charitable activities with keeping her name in front of the public as well as keeping her marketing costs low. "I'm a lot more comfortable having people talk about me than having to talk about myself," she says. With her business on solid ground, Susan has also found time to participate in association leadership, having served as president of her local PPA Guild and now as a member of the PPA Board of Directors.

Prospecting

As always, Susan is looking to the future. "You hear a lot about economic woes these days," she says "and I know that any economic downturn can affect the photography industry. But I truly believe that the best way to keep a business working is to work the business." As proof of this belief, Susan recently began a marketing campaign to 2,000 prospects stored within SuccessWare. "These are names of people who have actually contacted our business over the last five years. That means they know about us, so when we market to them, we'll get a lot further than if we simply emailed or sent direct mail. I am really excited about this aspect of SuccessWare!"

Not bad for a lady who used to hate computers!" 

You can learn more about Susan and her studio at her website.

For information on Ann Monteith's Guerrilla Management Workshops, visit AnnMonteith.com.

Next: Frank Donnino: Reacting to Adversity

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