The following is transcribed from Joy & Lachlan's live session from her Facebook group, Photoboss with Joy Michelle.
Joy Michelle 0:22
Hello hello photo bosses! Today we have a live guest, founder of Focal: Lachlan. Hi Lachlan, I'm just gonna let you literally just introduce and explain what it is that you do because I have been talking more about Focal and I know my community has heard me mention this on a couple of recent lives. But there's a lot that goes into this. So welcome. Thanks for being here.
Lachlan Shum 0:46
Oh, it's great to be here Joy. Hello, photo boss friends. It's a lot of fun, I always love meeting new photographers. I guess yeah, I can talk a little bit about myself. I think the funny thing about me is like, I'm actually not a photographer at all, so like, I come to this from like a totally different angle. But yeah, if you don't know much about Focal, I like to think of us very simply, as a company that loves to help photographers. We do that in a lot of different ways, but primarily, it's through our All In One Website and Backend system. But we also offer tons of other really awesome educational things and events and stuff, and we just love helping photographers. That's that's sort of what we're all about if there's a takeaway there.
Joy Michelle 1:35
Yeah, yeah. I saw just recently, was it yesterday that you guys announced the podcast?
Lachlan Shum 1:41
Oh, yeah. It's "What the Focal", WTF!
Joy Michelle 1:44
I was like, Wait, this is amazing. And so I've been enjoying all the different education that you guys have been putting out and just living vicariously through all the images of your Not a Conference. And you have one coming up still right? Is that one going to be in Hawaii?
Lachlan Shum 2:02
It's going to be in Maui. I mean, how can you beat white sand and blue water and Hawaii? So yeah, it's gonna be great. Yeah, we're up. We just I think we have a lot of fun is what it is.
Joy Michelle 2:16
And then in your Facebook group, I think that that can definitely be said, I was like, looking at different posts and seeing people who were saying they were going and it just looks like a really cool group of photographers.
Joy Michelle 2:27
So take me back. How did this all begin?
Lachlan Shum 2:33
Yeah, like, that's always a great question. And one I get a lot when people hear that I'm not a photographer. I think that whole like "not-a-photographer", "not-a-conference" thing is like a bit of a theme with Focal. For me it's funny, because I totally come into this industry with like, negativity and curiosity. And it actually all started when I was in Banff, Canada, It's a beautiful place in the mountains, and you've probably seen these beautiful photos. I was visiting there for my anniversary with my partner, Erin. And I thought, you know, I'm a pretty sappy guy. So I thought maybe I'd book a photographer and get some nice photos and maybe scrapbook or something for her and she'd like that. And what happened was, I went and tried to actually book a photographer. So I had like, a dozen websites open. I was googling Banff couples photographers, and I just went down this like five hour rabbit hole. And what struck me from my background in business and in tech, was like, why is it so hard to give photographers my money? I really want to book you, but I have to send you an email and wait, and I don't actually know if you're available, and then gotta email somebody else, and I don't know what the pricing is going to be like, or what the experience is going to be like. And so that's really what gave birth to Focal is that actually a sort of problem that I had. And then I sort of set out to build a system that I could give photographers that would essentially just make it so much easier for them to take client's money who want to pay them who value them.
Joy Michelle 4:10
Yeah, because that's absolutely true. And it's crazy that like every photographer has like a different system. I'm not even sure you can call it a system sometimes for how they're booking clients and dealing with inquiries and all of that and so from the user side, you're like "this is a problem, this is a mess". Which I love that you came in were like "alright, let's fix this. Let's make it easy and and kind of like take a different angle on it". And so wait, my question is did you find a photographer?
Lachlan Shum 4:39
No, and that's the sad thing is that I didn't and because I'm not a photographer, I tried to get people to take photos on their iPhone or whatever of us and and all of them are pretty bad. I still scrapbooked them but they're not what I was looking for. Yeah, I know what was most frustrating about it is you go on the photographer's site, you see these amazing shots, and you're like, "I want that, how do I get that?" And there shouldn't be so much friction.
Joy Michelle 5:05
Okay, I will say photographers, we have a unique ability of making things much more complicated than they need to be. And I think it's the artist mind that starts to take over and less of the business mind. We almost forget that sometimes when we want to buy something, we're okay if the person says, "here's how much it costs", and we're okay with giving our credit card. And it starts to get emotionally murky, when it's our gift and our calling and all of the things and so just having, I think that outside perspective of being reminded, like people want to book you people want to have you photograph the biggest day of their lives, or an amazing vacation or their family or their new baby. And it's so important to reduce the friction, which is the great word that you use. So sadly, you did not get a photographer, and I have heard this actually, I've had so many people tell me like, "Am I doing this wrong?" Because I've reached out to photographers, and sometimes they don't get back to me or I'll DM people and sometimes they don't. They they tell me to inquire on their website, and then I do and then I don't hear back. And so I would love to hear your take as a non photographer, but obviously you're in the industry by proximity. How can photographers bring more value and garner higher prices and just book more clients ultimately?
Lachlan Shum 6:31
Yeah, definitely. That's a great question. I think, like you said, I kind of take this perspective of putting myself in the client's shoes. But then at the same time, you know, Focal has been around now for over three years, and I've had huge opportunity to learn from so many photographers, and I have a huge appreciation for the artist. And I think there's a balance, like it has to be a healthy balance that happens. I think when it comes to the value part, what's important to remind yourself as a photographer, is that your client is coming into this with no knowledge, they have no idea what you do. And particularly, they have no idea what goes into providing, you know, they look at the photos on your website, and they're like, "Oh, how do I get that?", but they don't think about like all the training and education and the experience of maybe shooting tons and tons of different families or weddings or couples to be able to produce that. And then they also don't think necessarily about like, "oh, I have to be in the photoshoot" as well. Yeah. And so I think making it tangible to them, can really help elevate your value. I think a lot of photographers, especially if you've been in it for a long time, I noticed, almost take yourself for granted, or it's like you forget what you put into this. And then if you can't convey that to the customer, as if they're like a baby, then they have no way of telling you from maybe somebody that's just starting out or you that's charging more versus somebody that's charging less. So I have a really good story. Like, I can tell you if you want to have a funny story from back before Focal.
Joy Michelle 8:16
Lachlan Shum 8:20
It's a silly story, but I think it conveys the point well Way back when I was a teenager, I used to sell RVs like motorhomes, trailers, camping trailers and stuff like that. I used to do this silly thing where, you know, I would do this thing where I'd like, punch the roof really hard with a trailer when I was showing it to a customer. And the reason for that was, you know, the trailers we would sell were a lot more expensive than the ones down the road. But for all intents and purposes, they look pretty much the same. And I would have to explain that, like, these trailers are actually built a lot better than the ones down the road, they might be $10,000 more, but their roofs are like this much thicker. And that's the reason I punch them. And it shows how sturdy they are. And I say like if you go down the road and punch a trailer in that other dealership that's $10,000 cheaper, you're probably buying it because you just punched a hole through the roof. And I think that kind of conveys the value is that your customer isn't going to think of something they're not going to think of, you know, that experience that you bring to a shoot. They're not going to think about all the value-added things that you do. Maybe it's things during the planning process. Maybe it's, you know, just being sort of that Swiss Army Knife during the day. And unless you share that experience, it's hard for them to even value it.
Joy Michelle 9:48
Yeah, like they're not going to magically know unless you tell them what makes you different and I think there's so many different avenues that you can take in order to show this and layer in your social proof and getting press and having icons. But like, I think a lot of this comes down to like your website and your content. And like that is why it is actually super important to figure out like your differentiating factors and find out what is that uniqueness? Where do you come in that you can say "this is why I'm uniquely different". Like, that may be true about that other person's pricing. But this is why, so huge and so, so important. Because I mean, you can look at any industry and business and find differing prices on that thing, right? Like, if you want to buy a tent, I mean, you can go on Amazon and see every possible price. But you're not going to see the premier priced tent competing for the same keywords and the same value in that they're not going to play the same game, because they're not even looking at the $20 tent. And they know that they're bringing a different value to the table. So that's such a good thing. Is there any other ways that photographers should be thinking about this in terms of making this simple for the user?
Lachlan Shum 11:10
Yeah, I think what you said there about the tents, and there are different photographers for different people. And I think matching and finding your person, like your clients, finding your ideal clients is really important. I know that term gets thrown around a lot, but it is important because yeah, you have that $20 Amazon Tent, while it's probably like 30 pounds. And if you went on a backpacking trip, you would die because it's so heavy and wouldn't hold any water. And some people want the cheap photographer, and that's they just want photos and that they want the cheapest price. And that's that's the value to them. But some people want more they want somebody that maybe is going to connect with them more during the day, is going to be part of the planning process, somebody that they want to rely on for their experience. And if that's you, I think the first thing is figuring out what it is that's special about you as a photographer. When I talk about ideal clients, I almost use this like Harry Potter analogy. It's like the wand chooses the wizard, and it's almost like the clients choose you. But you have to convey what's special about you first.
Joy Michelle 12:20
That is so true. And I think a way to reverse engineer this a little bit if someone's listening and they're like, "I don't actually know what my unique gifting might be be. I like taking pictures, and I want to take really good care of you". Go back and look at your testimonials and your reviews and look for the repeating statements. Because things I think a lot of times our giftings are things that we don't notice about ourselves, because it's our gifting. It's just what comes to us naturally. So if everybody's saying that you hype them up, and you made them feel really comfortable, or you brought their partner out of their shell, that is actually a unique gifting and something that you can highlight strategically in your marketing.
Lachlan Shum 13:00
Oh, absolutely. That's, that's such a good example. We see this with photographers, we see this with Focal every day. I did this funny thing. We did this conference in Rome, Italy, it was Way Up North. And before we went there, we wanted to make a video where some of our users sort of said, we asked them, you know, "what do you love most about Focal?" And I expected to get a bunch of people saying, oh, you know, our website is so good. The conversion rates, awesome. We get lots of bookings, whatever. Yeah. But it wasn't that like, every single video that people sent in was like, "We love Focal, because we feel like, when we're working with them, we actually had like a team behind us." When we message them, they reply, so fast that we can't believe it's a real person, like it's in the middle of the night and sometimes they just reply to us like that, that sort of like connection and that customer service. And I see that a lot with photographers. And I'm so glad you mentioned going back through the reviews, because you you know if you're watching this right now, please go look at your reviews. And I think what you'll be surprised about is people are like, Oh, the photos are amazing. But you know, you made us feel so comfortable. You made this experience so great for us. And then that experience part is actually really, really important as well. It's like, what experience are you creating, that's making them happy and comfortable. And then the photos are a result of that great experience.
Joy Michelle 14:22
100%. I mean, it's an annoying fact that it's not about being the best photographer. You can become really, really technically proficient at something and still be unable to achieve the results that you're wanting because they're uncomfortable, like we can't control how someone else feels, to a certain extent. And so, really owning that and like seeing that the client experience and the whole experience of working with you, and I think there's a transactional experience that people forget about too. It's not just how they felt in front of your camera. It's also, what was it like to sign the contract and pay and how long did it take to hear from you, and all that kind of stuff really will also convey that they were important to you and that you wanted to work with them and you cared about the portrait session or the wedding day or whatever it is that they're hiring you for. So such a good point.
Joy Michelle 15:18
Okay, anything else that you want to share as far as conveying value? Because I do also want to hear a little bit more about what Focal can offer.
Lachlan Shum 15:27
Yeah, we can definitely talk about that, I guess on the value piece, yeah, I have one more really short story, I can talk a lot, but I'll just keep this one short. I think a good example of that experience piece was in the very early days of Focal. I was with a photographer out and we were shooting this field, I was just following along to see what they were doing. They're working with more sort of a traditional couple. They were using lights. And it was just like a slower experience. It was like, you know, direction, okay, take a couple shots and maybe adjust a couple of things. And then a little way down the road, there was another photographer, shooting. And her experience was totally different. She was doing this thing where she's just like holding up her camera, then she just started like laughing at them out of the blue. And then the couple would be like, almost shocked. They'd start laughing and then she'd capture that. And the funny thing was the more traditional a couple we were with they like turned looked over there. And they were like, "Please don't make us do that".
Joy Michelle 16:29
Oh, that's so funny!
Lachlan Shum 16:31
Yeah. And they were enjoying the experience they were having that was what their expectations were about a shoot, they were happy to have lights and adjustments and they were happy. They wanted to get really nice shots. And they liked the direction. That laughing situation over there was not for them. Not for me. It's almost like figuring out what it is that you do.
Joy Michelle 16:53
Yeah and there's clients for all of us. It's very, very true. Like you said, there's some people that do want the budget photographer, and they are happy with that. And then there's someone to do that work as well. So I think in each style, at each price point, you're gonna find your person, it's just a matter of really honing in on that messaging and making sure you know where you land in that, so that you can best serve your people, which that's so please don't make us do that.
Lachlan Shum 17:23
Don't make us do that.
Joy Michelle 17:24
Yeah, so funny. I thought you're gonna say like, over there, that looks like a lot of fun.
Lachlan Shum 17:30
No, but yeah, different matches, right? And I think that's important, and the more you can convey what it is that you are like, if you're the laugh behind the camera and get people just like fired up then you should convey that and be really upfront about it. Because the more you put that messaging out there, then the more it's going to attract that type of client.
Joy Michelle 17:53
Yeah, yeah, I know, Jasmine Star, the OG of wedding photography education used to say "attract and repel, attract and repel". I'm going to put stuff out there and it is going to serve both purposes. And sometimes in your marketing, you're thinking like, "Yes, my dream client is going to book me because they're going to see this and they're going to resonate with it". And that's great. And that's part of marketing, but it's also making sure that you put out enough information about your experience that the wrong people are saying, "I'm good, I don't want that", which is what you want, because we've all had a problem client, or two or three or four who just drain the life out of us as photographers and so that's one way to avoid it is the attract and repel and not being too vanilla in what you're doing online so that people really do know who you're for.
Lachlan Shum 18:40
I love that. I like the whole "don't be vanilla". Yeah, I'm a fruity ice cream guy, strawberry ice cream. Sometimes I go to the ice cream place and it's all like "chocolate this chocolate that" I'm like, "Oh no!"
Joy Michelle 18:40
Oh no, it's not tropical enough for you. Now I like vanilla. Like I will order a vanilla latte. And I think vanilla is a beautiful flavor. But in terms of marketing, we do not want to be vanilla because vanilla is so safe and so forgettable. That's the other thing too is like there's no stick power to like, "I'm vanilla. You add your toppings", you know?
Lachlan Shum 19:16
You want to evoke some passion or some emotion. And I guess we can almost tie this into the website piece. A website is one way of getting yourself out there. You want people to come to your website or Instagram or any places where you're present and either feel a very strong connection to you or maybe like "No, it's not a good fit for me".
Joy Michelle 19:37
Absolutely. Yeah, and we can't actually even control that. Like if we're trying to be for everyone you might think you are but people make such a fast and quick assessment I guess is like a nice word of like, whether you're for them or not. And so it's already happening. So you might as well just make sure that it's clear to the person you do want to work with.
Lachlan Shum 19:58
Absolutely. And another thing I noticed that photographers sometimes do is they don't even put themselves out there enough. I'll go to a photographers Instagram, and I'll be like, who are you?
Joy Michelle 20:16
Yeah, that is so true. And I mean, it's hard. Like I will say it is really hard because photographers want to be the one behind the camera, they want other people to be highlighted, and they want other people to look beautiful. And that is I think our natural inclination is to work like focus, it's already enough to put our own work on display, sometimes that we have to be reminded like, you are also a personal brand, it's pretty likely that you're a personal brand. And so like your face and who you are, is also a really relevant piece where it can feel so strange to have your phone out and just flip the camera around and be like, "Alright, I'm gonna make a face to camera story now" as if people care, but they actually do care, like not everybody's watching you as closely as you think. But the people especially who are closest to buying with you care, I really do care before I invest with somebody, especially if I know I'm going to be working with them in particular, I really do kind of like, want to know how you deal with people and how you talk and like it makes me feel more assured in my decision.
Lachlan Shum 21:22
Note: During the following portion of the Q&A, Lachlan provides a demo of the Focal mini session feature. To see a video demo, check out this article: https://www.bookfocal.com/knowledge-base/how-to-book-mini-sessions
Joy Michelle 21:24
All right. So what else? What else is Focal? You said websites, like really clean and easy to book photographers on your websites. But what else does Focal do?
Lachlan Shum 21:41
Yeah, so we're changing gears now. And I would almost use like your example there, the attract and the repel. You know, there's a lot of options out there for you as a photographer to run your business. If you're someone that wants massive customization, you want to have a 20 step workflow and automations. And on your website, you want to jus every little bit of padding, and every little bit of font, then I always say Focal is not for you. But if you're looking for a system that, you know, you come, you talk with our team, we consult with you about what your vision is for a website, we actually build that website for you, we set up all your packages, we help you with your pricing, we get those up on your site for you. And then we actually give you a fully sort of fleshed out workflow for you to conduct your contracts or payments, we just added galleries now. And it's just a really, really, really simple system to use. That's who we're for, if you want simple and you're looking for, you know, a system that's just going to handle all of those business aspects of your photography business, Focal is are a great option. And it's something that you're not gonna have to be like messing around with all the time because our team is on top of it. And we're here to support you and make sure it works. If you want to tweak and, you know, play around, there's so many options. You can build your own website with Pixieset or Squarespace or Wix, you can run your back end on Honeybook, but it's a totally different thing, a lot of options, and you have to figure it out on your own.
Joy Michelle 23:13
Yeah. So we've been talking here about mini sessions a lot, the past couple of weeks, I had a guest come in and talk about mini sessions and how she does these all year round and has made it very profitable, and was sharing so much helpful content around that. And I think that one thing that makes them a little daunting to photographers is the booking, the logistics and just the back and forth, and that's why I was like alright, well. Focal is one of those platforms that's actually made for that kind of thing. And sometimes we're forcing a software that's not meant for something to try to do something and then we're manually doing everything. And then it becomes a little bit tedious for the person booking and also for us. And so that's why I feel like the word simplicity is what's coming up with Focal but also the all in one piece for sure. I don't know if you have the ability to share what it would look like for somebody to listen like minis or packages or like why this is actually going to be simpler for somebody to display if they have a lot of different offerings in their business. I can go ahead and let me do. I'll share your screen here now.
Lachlan Shum 24:25
Sweet. Yeah, that's perfect. I've actually got something up right here. I've got Yeah, can you see this?
Joy Michelle 24:34
Yeah, can't see the package editor page.
Lachlan Shum 24:37
Awesome. So yeah, I've got actually one of your packages up here. I'll just do this. So with for example, mini sessions, the idea of again, simplicity, it's so easy. You can just drag and drop some photos in here. Like setting up your time slots is so easy. I'll just pick a date here. And then you just like a start time, for example, just pick a couple hours. This is a 20 minute session and then it's actually just going to automatically generate all the time slots for you. You just put in the pricing and you can add a description and maybe say what's included and stuff like that. But then it's as easy as just publishing that package. And and then you can go and actually open it up here and it's gonna open your live page. Oh, actually, I think we've got this one hidden here, my bad.
Joy Michelle 25:43
And one thing that was so cool about this is that as the sessions get booked, it actually shows which ones are sold out and which ones are blocked off, which I think is an important aspect for selling minis.
Lachlan Shum 25:56
Yeah, so you've got the dates here. And then, as people book them out, actually I have one. I know, this photographer has been doing these cool, like, holiday box ones, for example, or fall mini sessions as well. And then you'll actually see like you mentioned that they're crossed out and almost creates that like urgency. It's like, Oh, my goodness, there's only like a few left. So I gotta jump in there and, and grab them.
Joy Michelle 26:27
I love this. I think it's like, it's so simple. But it also has like you said, the urgency. And we were just talking about how that is so important, because they need to see how many spots really are there, right? Like how many days are there and then how many spots are there and then as they go and you say, oh, there's only three left, there's only two left, there's only one left, like they can literally see those, which I think is fun to build hype around mini sessions and seasonal sessions are really any kind of sessions that you do. But I just like the simplicity of that, too. So thank you for sharing that. That's so cool.
Lachlan Shum 27:02
Oh, yeah, no problem. I think it's a great point that you make that, you know, a lot of photographers want to go and do mini sessions, I was actually talking to Caroline Tran about this the other day, because she does a lot of education around mini sessions. She said a lot of the time, she does maybe a three step course. And step two is just to set up a system to do the mini sessions. Yes, she's like so many people, like 90% sometimes will just fall off right at that stage. Because they just don't have a system that's easy for them to do it.
Joy Michelle 27:31
It's overwhelming. Yeah, I mean, and that was like a comment I literally just read before we got on this call It was saying "I tried minis, they didn't book number one". And then for lots of reasons, but the number one thing that she said was it was a logistics nightmare. And that is because you don't have a way of doing this well, because I think if you're manually taking you know inquiries, or maybe you just share it on social media, and then you're getting this flood of emails, that is going to be a lot because mini sessions are going to be by the name of the game, like, you're gonna do a lot more of them. So you definitely need a way to streamline this and then also to communicate with them afterwards about how that's gonna look and what are the upsells and how to make this make sense for you as a photographer, and as a business owner. So that's so true. That's interesting that Caroline educates on that I need to check out her stuff.
Yeah, she's great. But I think it's a common problem. And again like you mentioned, it's part of the client experience too. If I'm a client booking you for a mini session, well, if you have a professional system, and I can book and pay in like two seconds and I get a email notification and it goes on my calendar and like it's that easy, then I already see you at a higher value as well that way. If I'm having a message you on Facebook and be like Hello, do you do any sessions?
Right and even for us, the likelihood that I'm going to see that and remember it and like I have kids, I'm trying to run a business and you know, be a present mom and I think that there's so many people juggling a day job and have a life and like want to experience their life as well as their business. So if that's you know, how you're taking on clients, I think that's something where it's like okay, let's reevaluate the efficiency model that you have going here and like so true. I'm just gonna lose that DM so fast.
Lachlan Shum 29:26
Yeah, no, I love that the minis should be as many for you as it is for the for the clients.
Joy Michelle 29:31
That's a good way of putting it especially since it is going to be a lower price point per person anyway so awesome. Alright, so in the description I threw a link for people to check out Focal if they want to take a look and see both the back end booking side of it as well as the full website, SEO optimized blog posts, like you guys are kind of have everything and then like you said, galleries, so kind of a one stop situation especially for someone who wants to just try to keep everything simple. Any other final words or imparting wisdom?
Lachlan Shum 30:07
Yeah, I mean I can just say that for me, I think I'm like a lot of you as photographers. You want to make sure you have good matches with your clients. I think we all struggle from impostor syndrome a bit when it's ourselves. And the one thing I always say is if you're looking for help, we at Focal, our team, we would love to help you. And whether that help is you coming and chatting with us and us being like, "I think you'd be better off with this system", we'll do that. But if you come to us, and you're like, "I'm having trouble setting up my minis", or "I've been working on a website for six months, and it's just not done". These are things that like, we'll get you in for a consult with our team, our design team will literally build you an entire website, host it, deploy it, we'll get your packages up, we'll make sure you're ready to just hit the ground running and run minis and take payments and do contracts. We're just there for you. So yeah, and the one thing I will add too is that, at the end of the month of October, we're actually shutting off this sort of special thing we were doing. We were actually designing custom logos for anyone that got a site with us. So if you're interested, definitely come chat with us. Just book a meeting. As long as you book a meeting with our team, you can do that through Joy's bookfocal.com/joy page.
Joy Michelle 31:32
Yeah, and I got to work with your team, actually. And it was Kirsty, one of your designers, to create, a template that you guys can actually use as a starting point for your sites. And I felt like that was a really cool experience coming from, without naming any other brands, coming from lots of other softwares, it was a unique experience. Because I mean, you can actually talk to the team, whereas in some, some places more of like, you're talking to a computer that saying like, "is this the problem?" And you're like, "Nope, no, it's not the problem, like I need a person". So that is one of, I think the uniqueness factors of your brand. Speaking of uniqueness factors. That's definitely one of yours.
Lachlan Shum 32:18
Thank you, I really appreciate that. We want to see, photographers succeed. That's what we love doing. We never think of like us, when we launch your website, for example, we never see that sort of as the end. When you start you know, running your mini sessions this fall and we see you get bookings, that's when we're, we're really excited and we feel like we delivered great value to you, I suppose. So that's, I guess the way we approach business and we love working with photographers, so happy to always chat and if anyone has questions, looking for advice from a non photographer, feel free to reach out to me.
Joy Michelle 32:58
Oh, good to know. Good to know. Thank you so much for joining us here live we will go back and for anyone watching the replay, you can leave any questions that you have below and we will circle back and definitely answer them. So thank you so much, Lachlan, for joining us.
Lachlan Shum 33:11
Thanks, Joy. See you later.
Joy Michelle 33:13