I can guarantee you'll get a lot out of my interview on the podcast this week with Ben Hartley, a fellow photographer and a photo biz coach. He brought up a question in our interview that totally flipped how I think about value.
The typical sales pitch focuses on the value of your product– how your photos can serve your clients. But what if you could teach your clients to value themselves first? If they understand that they are worth the quality work that only you can provide, spending the money will be a no brainer every time.
For more on communicating your unique value and teaching clients to value themselves, read the edited transcript of my conversation with Ben below.
Natalie: Maybe just tell folks a little bit about what you do and what kind of photography you're into.
Ben: I make things. So specifically with photography, I make wedding photography imagery. 11 years now I've been kicking it as a wedding photographer. So that's where a lot of my time is spent.
And then as well, I spend a lot of time just trying to pour back into this industry and into this community. Uh, and so I spent a lot of time doing free coaching videos and podcasting as well and making ridiculous reels on Instagram.
Natalie: A lot of the folks listening are kind of just starting their photo journey. Some of them not so much, but what brought you into this industry? If you can remember back that far, what were some of the early challenges that you faced as a wedding photographer?
Ben: So what brought me into the industry again, was just like my desire to make. So from a from a pretty early age, I've always been like head down, invested into artwork. I even like transferred high schools to drive 30 minutes to another school at my senior year just because they had a better art program there.
Went to college, studying oil painting. So I spent a lot of time in front of the canvas. So photography actually for me, It was a means to an end. I learned photography in order to continue to paint after my model got up and left the studio.
Meaning from life. And I'm a hyper realist. And so my work tends to take hours upon hours. I mean, hundreds of hours typically. And so to have someone pose for me, it was like, hold this position for a hundred hours. It's a little time-intensive on their part.
I learned photography in college. I took a couple of courses, I did some darkroom stuff really again, in order to help me perfect my oil paintings and then, you know, fast forward four years from college. And I now have a degree in oil painting.
I guess I should say this, I fully believe now knowing what I know and I understand about myself that I could have a thriving business as an oil painter in Ohio, but back then, I did not have the same beliefs that I hold today. And so there's a ton of scarcity kind of running through my mind. I had just gotten married. I'm kind of in this panic mode of like, how do I provide for my family?
What do I do? I am an oil painter. I was trying to figure out how to make money, essentially. Like my wife and I, we were sitting down. We had just been married for only a couple of weeks. And we're sitting in our apartment in Bowling Green, Ohio, and it was Leslie that kind of spoke, could this into existence.
Everything that we do, it starts with like language and she's the one who spoke it and she's like, bang: you love people, you're decent at making things look good. What about wedding photography?
So from that point I pursued a number of things. I actually started off in video commercial video. I got an internship doing some commercial video work at an incredible studio. And I didn't just learn about how to use a camera there, but I learned also just about what it meant to like run a business a little bit, just from observing my boss. My boss was incredible. I spent a couple of years there before eventually I was able to build up my photography business to the point that we could leave. I don't know if anyone has felt this way: I felt stuck and I didn't want my salary, my revenue to be dictating my life…my ability to make money to be dictating where I raised my family, where I lived, what I did.
If anyone's grown up kind of maybe in the same small town and it's where you've always been. It's where your friends have always been. It's where your friends, friends have always been and it's where you've got security and it's where you have income coming in.
And yet in the back of my mind, I just felt like, man, I am stuck. I'm stuck here. I'm tied down. Because at that point I actually, you know, we did have a salary. We did have revenue coming in and I was able to provide for my family. And yet there was this frustration that like, okay, that was great. That was wonderful, but now I feel trapped and I didn't want to feel that way anymore.
And that's why I started the business was in this hope to like set myself free in order to do what I actually wanted to do and to go where I wanted to go. To raise a family where I wanted to raise them. Thankfully I was able to do that.
And so now it's my mission is to try to help other people to do that for themselves. For me, I felt trapped in the location. There were certainly relational things to that. You know, I think a lot of people who are stuck, maybe stuck air-quotes in their hometown, the frustration isn't just the location.
It's like some of the toxic relationships, it's the memories and the stress that comes with those. And that's where Leslie and I were in some regards. And so, you know, when I say “to help photographers break out”, maybe it's not leaving a location. Maybe it's just leaving a relationship that they need out of. A mindset, a relationship, a career, a group of people, but they're stuck because of money. They're tied to it because financially they need to be there and I want to give them an out.
Natalie: Are you shooting then all over the place is your business model then to sort of not be tied to a certain community? And so speaking to that, as far as like helping folks break out, what, what can that look like?
Ben: It can look like whatever you want it to look like. This is the beautiful thing about life. I have no problem being connected and tied down to a community.
It was just the feeling that I was stuck in a space that I didn't want to be in anymore and a space that was no longer serving me. I love the community that I have here now. And actually my wife and I are moving to a new community, we're heading out to Tampa, Florida here in the next year.
And I can't wait to get invested in connected and plugged in there. I think to start, it was the dream and, and it was really fun to go and travel and to do all the destination stuff. And, and we had a great time doing that. And then we just started making babies. By we, I mean, Leslie. And so now we still get the requests. We just got a request to do a Jamaica wedding and I'm hemming and hawing over it because it's a wedding that I think it could be great. But at the same time, I'm like, the charm has worn off the traveling weddings.
If I could have it my way, it would be to only photograph sessions within a 30 minute drive from my home ever. And then when I want to go to Jamaica, I'll just go to Jamaica and I'll take some fun pictures while I'm there, but I'll do it on my own time and my own dollar.
So that's kind of where I'm at these days where I really value being close to home, photographing imagery, close to home, and then doing the traveling on my own.
Natalie: I can relate to that whole heartedly. I want to just jump back to, you talked about your mission in terms of helping others and serving the community. How would you articulate just if you had to do a quick sentence, your, your why and your mission?
Ben: I don't know if I can get into like a simple sentence, but my why would be to empower people to design the life that they want, not dictated by any limitation that they've previously had or believed that they had.
The goal here isn't to raise or to make more money. The goal is to live life on your own terms, to say, no, if you want to say no, to not be financially reliant on someone that's no longer good for you, to leave a toxic relationship, to raise your kids the way that you want to raise them, to be more present with your family.
My whole thing is six figure photography. Right. That's just like there's a little bit of a bait and switch there. It's like, Ooh, it's sexy. It's like, oh yeah, money, six figure photography. I like that. I want that. And then we get in and we're like, oh, this isn't about money. Is it? This is about something else.
Natalie: What would you say to folks that are currently in a space where they have to take the gig where they're like, oh, this, this person does not sound like someone I really want to work with, but I got to pay the rent.
Ben: That's okay. I mean, it's really okay. At the end of the day it's just still work and it can be hard sometimes. And there is a bit of a hustle. There's a little bit of a grind at the beginning. So I guess I just want to let them know that it's okay. That they don't need to feel bad about that or shamed about it or embarrassed or less than because of it. We're building something here. And this is just the first step.
Natalie: I'd like to talk a little bit about your thoughts on the power of mindset and what we're capable of. I know you speak a lot about limiting beliefs and stuff like that. How important is our belief system and our thoughts to the success of our business?
Ben: I mean, it's everything. It's like literally everything. It controls and it dictates everything that you do. Whatever you seek, you're going to find. It's a lot of like, working out. It's a muscle that you have to keep investing.
You've got to go to the gym for your brain, and you've got to keep learning more about your beliefs and where they came from and how they're serving you. Even the ones that you say you hate, it's there for a reason and it's helping you to get something and just getting really curious about that…spending a lot of time reading and listening. Again, it's something you've got to work out and you've got to put as much time into that as you do developing your craft. I honestly believe that.
Natalie: Let's talk a little bit about tangible stuff related to mindset. Is there something that you have as kind of like a go-to or like something that really works for you when you find yourself in like kind of a poopy mindset?
Ben: So the first thing that I would say is you've got to make space. Like, I dunno if you're like me, but my mind is always running and it's always digesting. It's always taking shit in. It's always consuming and then it's regurgitating that into me.
And so my, my first thought on mindset is no-one's got space…All this digesting and consuming everybody else's opinion and it's, and it's your opinion. And suddenly now it's your opinion, like, like suddenly, now it's a part of you and you're like, well, where did this come from me?
It came from everything that you're taking. So man, delete it, turn it off. We're building a house right now in Tampa, and I had just met with the cable people and they're like,”where do you want the TV?” I'm like, fuck it, I don't want the cable. Don't give me the cable. I'm not getting it. I don't want it.
A thing I use for Facebook is called newsfeed eliminator. I just removed my entire newsfeed on Facebook. So when I go in, I'm a part of communities and Facebook groups. And so I go in and I manage my community, but my newsfeed is eliminated. When I get in my car, NPR doesn't come on anymore. I want space and I'm going to protect it like it's my life, because it is. And so I'm going to try to protect as much as I can the space and this includes just like other people's chatter.
So if I start hearing gossip, if I start hearing the bullshit, I literally would just throw up a peace sign sometimes to myself and my own brain. It's my little, it's my signal. It's like my little tick, like “peace.” And then I'm out. I'll just leave because I'm respecting my brain. I'm protecting my mind because it is the creator of everything that I got in my life and I'm going to protect it. Well, and it's sacred space. It really is.
Natalie: You had mentioned the importance of communicating your value and I would love to just touch on that if you have something top of mind that you want to say around that.
Ben: I think a lot of photographers feel like if only they could connect with a client in a way, and the client would understand the value of their work then they would pay good money for it. This is where leftovers feel stuck in the middle market.
So we do all the things to try to get them to see the value. And this is where the imposter syndrome comes in, because now we're like, we're trying to flex and we're trying to focus so much on ourselves. And so we're certainly we're improving our work and that's awesome.
And we're showcasing testimonials and awards and how long we've been in business and, and the equipment that we use. Just to try to get people to see our value and in the process, we're so focused on ourselves that it starts to like invert in a way. We start to feel like, am I worth it?
I'm so focused on trying to convince people my worth that, that imposter syndrome sneaks in. There's a bit of a paradox in that, the more that you try to like internalize your own competence and it just seems to almost plateau, if not go down. I've discovered the best shot in increasing my own confidence in my own value of myself is to pour it back into other people. If I wanted to elevate my own self worth, I'm going to try to elevate yours instead.
“Why would someone spend $10,000 on wedding photography if they didn't believe that they, and their friends, and their family, and the people in those photographs are worth $10,000? They certainly won't. If I'm a parent, I'm not going to drop $3,000 on family photographs if I don't first see that my family is worth spending $3,000 on.
In a conversation with a lead, a lot of times what happens as photographers is we say, “Hey, Natalie, this is going to be incredible. We're going to have such a great time and listen, I'm not just like any other photographer. I'm going to like really connect with you in this process. I'm going to serve you the whole way and make sure that you're taken care of. Honestly, I become close friends with so many of my clients through the experience that we have. I'll create artwork for you. It's not just going to be digital. This is going to exist as like an heirloom for you and future generations for your kids to see themselves grow up. And this is one of the reasons why it's going to be $3,000 for this session.”
That sounds like a lot of the shit that we say to our leads and all I'm doing in that conversation is trying to convince you that I'm worth it. I'm trying to sell you on the fact that I'm worth it. And instead I do something differently. Instead, what I'm going to do is I'm going to spend all of my energy and all of my time in the communication, allowing you to see that you are that your friends and family are worth it.
“My family and I actually might be worth investing $3,000 in now.” We actually have the possibility for a sale to take place right now. It's literally like, I'm just going to create a space for it. And I'm going to ask you questions, that maybe you'll come to that conclusion through your own answers. And maybe you won't and if you won't all good, you're not going to buy, but maybe you will.
It's like what you speak becomes reality. Leslie spoke photography into existence for me. And so if I ask you questions and you say, you. It becomes something real for you, the value that you have for your family that might be in those photographs. There's like a new, the thing that you're like, oh, I hadn't thought of it that way.
It's a very different way to consider value. And now the whole way, I'm not focused on me. I'm not focused on my work. I'm not focused on how long I've been in business and how many wards I got the imposter syndrome doesn't come up for me because the emphasis isn't narrowly on me. It's entirely on you.
Natalie: Do you have just a couple of examples before we wrap up of like a question or two you would ask somebody in that situation?
Ben: Yeah, there's a great question. I call it the golden question. So, the golden question goes like this. I'm going to future pace you three years after the session. Let's say it's three years after the wedding and I'm going to allow you to exist in that space. And I'm going to get really curious about what you see in that space. Here's how it might go:
So, Natalie, I want you to fast forward three years after the wedding, and it was perfect in all of its imperfections, right? Like all the things that you knew were just going to happen, they happened and it was awesome. And now it's just You two chilling at home and it's a lazy Sunday. You got nowhere to be and you're sitting on the couch.
You're on your phone, you're just like doing your own thing and your man is sitting on the other side of the couch and, you notice out of the corner of your eye, he reaches over and he grabs your wedding album. And again, you're going to pay no attention. You're on Tik TOK or something.
Maybe you're reading a book. But then you notice he makes a little sound, maybe a little giggle, like a little audible noise, and you notice that he's smiling. You sit down, whatever you're doing and you scoot in closer to him and you start flipping through these pages.
And so my question for you is this who is in those photographs and what are those people doing that is bringing this feeling to you, right? I mean, you just get different answers when you say who is in those photographs and what are they doing? We get to something that creates an opening for the love that they have these people. This is an example that I've actually heard from someone:
“I see a photograph of my dad standing in the front doorway and he's not ready for the world. He smells like gasoline because he's been working on the car. that we're going to leave in. I see that big grin on his face.” You're going to start hearing stories of like real visions that people have that they've always dreamt of or the way that they want to experience the people that they love in their life.
And when they start sharing this, we could talk more about what their dad may mean to them. It just creates some really interesting conversations that lead you to powerful places. I really believe that like judgment and curiosity can't exist in the same space. I think in business being curious can take you so many places as well, because I think the takeaway too is really taking it off of you and moving it into curiosity and storytelling and conversation.
Natalie: One thing I love to ask folks at the end of every interview is, do you have a favorite piece of advice that you'd like to share?
Ben: Yeah. Keep showing up, man, keep showing up. We need you, you need you, your family needs you, your clients need you. I need you. And I know you ain't got nothing original to say, (this is what your mind is telling you right now.)
Right? But the messenger is completely unique. Everything's been said. All that shit I've been saying right now in this whole interview, you've heard is somewhere else, but you haven't heard it from me. And so I'm going to keep showing up.