Mark Turner of Turner PhotoDesign gave me an interview I will not soon forget. Mark has traveled the world photographing everything he could. Along the way he has captured both the best and worst humanity has to offer.
In this week’s Business Success Interview we discover a passion turned success story with Mark Turner of Turner PhotoDesign.
What is it that motivates you to succeed?
The first thing that comes to mind is my family. My kids are grown and have kids of their own, so now it is my wife and me. I want to give her everything I can give her.
My philosophy through life has been to give family everything they need and some of what they want. Everybody these days talks about their why and my wife is mine.
[pullquote]My philosophy through life has been to give family everything they need and some of what they want.[/pullquote]
The second thing is my desire to create things. I like to be able to look at something and say “I did that” and I want to be proud of it.
The saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is more about the emotions they evoke.
I have worked on documentary type trips. The plight of human beings can bring about a great sadness that makes people cry. I have also taken pictures of someone’s daughter getting married or a newborn baby and that brings great happiness. It can go either way and I like to be able to help people experience those emotions.
The third thing is that we like to help our community. We are active in the community and have worked with the Bloom Closet, the Real Life Center, and Fayette Senior Services.
Each year we try to work with a different company or service. This year we went with Project 80, which is an initiative Turner Photo Design started.
What is Project 80?
I met Ms. Aggie at our church in 2015 and she had a look that I wanted to photograph. I asked the lady that was assisting her if I could introduce myself. We got to talking and I found out she was 101 years old.
I got her into the studio and enjoyed working with her and hearing her story.
Since that time my wife lost her father and her aunt 10 days later. For those services, there were a lot of great photos but nothing professional.
Then a friend of mine, Chris, lost his father. During his service, there were a lot of professional quality photographs and it was nice to be able to see that.
[pullquote]It’s not too late until it’s too late, then it’s too late.[/pullquote]
I got to thinking about how much I enjoyed Ms. Aggie and how grateful I was that Chris had those photos of his father. I wish we had them for my wife’s family. So I said, what if I did that for people. That’s how Project 80 got started.
Project 80 is at no cost to the families involved. If they cannot come to the studio, I go to them. I don’t think that there should be a barrier to this service.
I announced Project 80 to my Facebook group and it has taken off nationwide. People are modifying it to suit their needs but the reception has been great.
We need to photograph this older generation before they are gone. It’s not too late until it’s too late, then it’s too late.
What habits have kept you successful?
That’s a tough one. I try to focus on the business basics and try to give my best to every client that comes to me. Even when the budget is something that would be small, I give my best work. I don’t believe in sacrificing my work quality.
[pullquote]Bad photographers that are good at doing business will be successful.[/pullquote]
What is one thing you find to be true in business that other people would disagree with?
That is an easy one. Bad photographers that are good at doing business will be successful. The artistry does not matter to your success. I hate it but that’s how it is in this industry.
How did you make your first sale?
In 1994 when I said “I want to be a photographer” a couple hired Allison and me for their wedding. We charged them a “huge” sum of $250 to shoot their wedding. We photographed for 4 or so hours and gave them a little white album with all their images in it.
We actually shot a few different weddings at that rate before we realized our mistake. By the time we bought everything and charged for our time we had paid about $200 each to do those weddings.
The lesson I learned from that was to know what the heck this thing costs you. That’s something people wrestle with all the time. What does running a business actually cost?
How do you overcome the moments of doubt that stop most entrepreneurs from seeing success?
Well, of course, I have those moments. As artists, we have highs and lows from moment to moment. If we had a great sale or booked an awesome job, we have no doubt we are going to be successful. On the flip-side, someone critiques your work and you feel like there is something wrong.
The trick to overcoming it is not basing my personal success on my business. My success is tied to my family and it is what they and God think of me that matters. I have to look at what I have done and where I have been instead of in the moment.
Because of photography, this guy from East Point has been able to go to Hungary, France, Germany, Austria, Romania, and a lot of states in the US. That is all based on my talent, so I’m satisfied.
How do you maintain a high level of service on a tight budget?
The clients budget does not determine the level of service I give. It may determine the amount of time I spend with them, but not the service.
I discovered long ago that the Lord will provide. There is a verse in the Bible that says “My father owns the cattle of 1,000 hills”. My friend likes to say “sure my Father owns the cattle of 1000 hills, but I get them one burger at a time”.
I made a deal a long time ago with myself and decided to do the best work regardless of the client’s budget. As a part of that, I also don’t compromise my products because of a client’s budget. This is the level of service I provide, if you can afford it, awesome. If I can help you afford it a little bit, awesome. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. I am not going to give a cheap product because you don’t have the budget.
How do you define success in business?
Success to me is getting up every morning and saying “cool, what do I get to do today”. Most people get up and say “I have to go to work today”, and I never wanted that. I get up every morning loving what I do, it feeds my family, and we have the things we want; that’s success.
Don’t be so absorbed in your business that you forget to live. Make sure there is time for family and fun.
To what do you attribute your company’s success?
Treating people with honesty and integrity. Business is easy when people like you, so treat them well and give them your respect and success will follow.
What would you say contributes the most to a company’s longevity?
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other even when times are tough. It also helps when you love the work you do.
How do you go about marketing your company?
I don’t do traditional marketing. I used to be big into Facebook but we don’t see the return from that we used to. High school seniors are good for business and they have moved on from Facebook.
We market by staying active in our community. It is a kind of word of mouth; I put my logo on everything. They see our logo and it helps with recognition.
What has your company growth been like for the last year?
We finished about 9% down from last year. A big part of that has been a shift in the industry. We are seeing less high school seniors, which was a large part our business. Really the whole people market is down. We have seen fewer people hiring photographers because people are flooded with so many pictures.
[pullquote]I learned not to allow one client become that much of your revenue stream.[/pullquote]
What has been your biggest business mistake?
5 or 6 years ago we got a contract for a private school. It was about 450 students and a big contract for us. We had no experience with a contract that size and we let them become over 40% of our total revenue.
We signed a 3-year contract and at the end of those 3 years, they had an administration change. It went from somewhere I was happy to go to a place I dreaded. The new admin was about “hurry up, do it cheaper”, which goes against my work ethic.
When it came time to submit a new bid, I priced it at what my work was worth. I knew it wouldn’t be accepted but I was not going to compromise my work. That will never be me. They went with the lowest bid and we were left without that client.
I learned not to allow one client become that much of your revenue stream. It is a big selling point but it isn’t worth it.
What has been your biggest business success and how did you contribute to it?
From a strictly business success, we did a major corporate client this year. I worked with Hale Aircraft and did all their products, some editorial shots, designed their tradeshow banners, business cards, everything but their logo. It was more involved than anything I had ever done and I loved it.
When I received my certification from Professional Photographers of America. It is a 100 question exam and required 20 photos that met very specific guidelines. I am one of only three certified photographers in Fayetteville.
I was also honored to be elected to the board of directors for the Georgia Photographers Association in 2015. It was wonderful that they thought enough of me to ask me to be on the board and serve the organization.
What is something that you want people to know about your company they don’t already know?
So many people ask me “do you go outside your studio”. Of course, we do! We have a great studio and I love to work there but we are out on location all the time. We have locations all over the county and the SE of Atlanta that we use.
[pullquote]Figure out your costs and understand what is involved in running a business.[/pullquote]
If you could go back to the first day of your company and have 15 minutes with your younger self, what advice would you give your younger self?
Figure out your costs and understand what is involved in running a business.
The one thing I wish I had of done differently was to delay purchasing a digital camera. It was just not ready when it first came out. The lab wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready, really the photography world was not ready. It upset all my customers.
I would say you don’t need the newest, greatest technology to do great work. Just slow down a bit and give things some time to establish themselves.
As always I appreciate Mark for taking time to meet with me. Find out more about his company: Turner PhotoDesign.