Beate Chelette: Photography Business Success Coach
Beate Chelette is an enabler.
She is a woman who enables the dreams of others. She observes, there are a million ways to be successful – you only need to find one, yours. Even when faced with hardship, the realities of being alone and broke, she was determined that she was not going to be defined by the things that kept going wrong. She would not accept defeat.
A single Mom, Entrepreneur and most recently a self-made multi millionaire, Chelette’s career in the photographic industry spans over 25 years. After receiving a degree in photography and being the youngest photo editor on record for Elle Magazine in her native Germany she immigrated to the USA in 1989.
Shortly thereafter she started and ran her own small business providing full support services
for photographers, advertising agencies and big name clients such as Levi’s, Mercedes Benz, Mervyn’s, Frederick’s of Hollywood and Coldwell Banker to name a few.
For 13 years to the day she weathered adversity both financially and privately but her desire to succeed and refusal to quit paid off. In 2006 Beate Chelette sold her stock photography business to a company privately held by Bill Gates.
After a brief stint in the corporate world following the acquisition, Chelette went back to her roots. She lives in Los Angeles and consults and speaks of Entrepreneurship, Success and Women Who Want It All and get it too. She developed her breakthrough method ego-RHYTHM to challenge and inspire others to want it all and get it too.
K.A.R.L. The Four Actions of ego-Rhythm acknowledges four actions necessary to attain your personal goals: K.A.R.L. is an acronym for the steps of Knowing, Accepting, Relaxing and Living; which is the basis behind the concept of ego-Rhythm.
“Ego-RHYTHM is a simple method that enables you to approach life in a new light and teaches how to live your life one rhythm at a time,” Chelette proclaims. And she is living proof that her concepts and tools work.
But, fortunately for us, Beate’s guidance also focuses on the photography business, specifically commercial photography, at Photography Business Success Coach.
VAJ: Beate, you teach so much about the techniques of success in every area of our lives inspiring us to want it all and to have it all too, and I’ve included links to all them so readers may study them in detail. But let’s focus upon the area of photographic careers; upon your role as a Photography Business Success Coach.
VAJ: You explain there is a reason why some people succeed and others seem to be stuck in their routines. What is that reason?
BEATE: Most of the time photographers forget that taking pictures is only a fraction of their work. The reality is that we are in the business of marketing our photography services and products. Without a photographer’s ability to run the business aspects, crunch numbers, plan ahead, learn new things and implement strategies – nothing much will happen in his or her business. They are as you say, stuck.
VAJ: You said you were determined that you were not going to be defined by the things that kept going wrong. Exactly what do you mean by that, and how did you change being defined by adversity into success?
BEATE: In essence, we have a choice to make. I had some really tough stuff to overcome and it was not looking pretty. I could have said-and I was tempted to do so, many times-“This is too difficult and I will give up.” My friends even told me that if it didn’t work out, I shouldn’t feel bad: it was too much for one person, a single mom, entrepreneur, an immigrant with no family, to handle all this adversity. But I choose to believe firmly that all of it had to be good for something. I could not imagine that God, a higher power, the universe or karma would make the joke be on me in the end. It just COULDN’T BE.
To change your life, you have to believe that even the worst of luck will turn – that you will come out OK. In many biographies of successful people, you will find that the big test, the really tough stuff, comes just before the big break. It is as if you are being asked if you want it badly enough. When you push through that, your rewards are so much bigger than you could have ever expected.
I refused to give up. I got up every morning and I went to my desk and worked. And I believed that I am a good person, good at what I do, and that I would make it – and I made it bigger than I ever could have imagined.
VAJ: What drew you to photography? Did you grow up in the advertising photography environment? How did you end up in the full support area of advertising photography?
BEATE: You will laugh about this. I wasn’t brilliant in school; in fact, I was rather mediocre. I took an aptitude test. Do you like heights? Do you like being outside? Do you enjoy carrying things? Are you healthy – all of which I answered with yes. The test said I should be a roofer!
At that time I knew that the traditional ways of how things are “supposed to be” were not for me. I had always liked images and so I decided I would become a photographer – and I did. Best of all, when that car to be photographed landed on the glacier, I was glad I wasn’t afraid of heights; that it was definitely an outdoors shoot; and I was healthy enough to carry the gear!
This was one of the tasks I had to organize when I was the assistant to a photographer who shot for a big German sports catalog. The car was the prize for a sweepstakes that they ran, and one of my jobs was – how do you get a car on a glacier?
VAJ: I wish we could all see that photo! Exactly what was your business that you sold to Bill Gates?
BEATE: I had a stock photography syndication called Beateworks. We had three brands: Beateworks, the core collection, rights managed the world’s best interior, architectural and “living well” images; InsideOutPix, a fun-loving royalty-free collection, also of at-home and “living well” images; and Beateworks@home, our celebrity-at-home collection. In 2006, Corbis acquired my entire business. Beateworks and InsideOutPix are still available and they are doing very well. Beateworks@home was the basis for the Outline@home collection.
VAJ: Please describe for us your steps to start your photography business, and why it was failing?
BEATE: Before the stock images company, I ran a photographer representation firm and a still photography production business. Repping is a tough business to make money in, but I always had a stable of three or four photographers that worked quite well. My production business was also flourishing.
What happened to me was the result of my own naïveté. My then right-hand employee got too friendly with a key photographer and they did what happens only to other people. They conspired to take it away from me… and they succeeded. I sued both of them and, after a long and ugly battle, the suit was settled. In the meantime, I thought I could count on future earnings from my production business. The photography season starts in September and goes through March. But September 11, 2001, wiped out $500,000 in production volume I had on the books in 48 hours. I was, in essence, financially finished.
VAJ: Besides receiving financial backing, what is the difference which turned your business into a success that landed clients like Levi, Mercedes Benz, Mervyn’s, and Coldwell Banker?
BEATE: Hard work. Then more hard work and, always, my desire to make it. I do what I do really well. I love what I do; I don’t think I ever dreaded a day at work. Perhaps during the lawsuit I hated everything, but other than that…. I love photography, I love producing, and I love photographers, the creativity and the images. Most of all though – I am really good at selling, marketing, promoting. I have a gut instinct for business, I am service oriented and I know clients have a choice. So I make it really hard to get the same service anywhere else. When you work with big-name clients, you must be at your best and most professional game.
VAJ: I couldn’t help but be caught up on one of these points of successful business practice because I think it’s something artists don’t even consider. You said “know clients have a choice.” Could you expand on this highly important point? What exactly do you mean by it? What choices? How do you construct your photography business in such a way as to guarantee clients these choices?
BEATE: Yes, it’s a hugely important point. Customers have a choice who they work with. I read a post on an industry blog the other day that said clients should put up with difficult photographers as that is a sign of creativity. I almost choked on my croissant! That is the dumbest thing I have heard in a long time.
This is not the 80s anymore. I lived the years where photographers could throw cameras at their assistants and that was OK. In those days the “artist” part of a photographer life was a big deal. That has changed and I can’t emphasize that enough. A shoot with you is an experience. You can either have 15 people leave that day and never recommend you to anyone because of the dismal experience they had working with you… or you can have 15 excited people walk out of your shoot and sing your praises. Now which of those two is better for your career?
Today, if a photographer is a jerk, unprofessional, difficult or treats people with disrespect (that includes your own assistants), you are done. The client just won’t book you again. It is a simple as that. Technology and equipment allows so many mediocre photographers to take pretty decent pictures that you cannot afford to lose a job because you are having a bad day. It is a business and you must be professional and nice. People need to want to be around you.
Having said that, I have worked with photographers who will fight for what they think will be the best image. You don’t need to be a pushover as you will be judged by the work you do. But my point is that you need to keep yourself in check. Photographer Andrew Eccles said it so beautifully in my interview with him. He said that as a photographer, while on the day of the shoot he is the boss and what he says goes, he makes a point to make sure that everyone feels equally important. The celebrity he shoots, the client, the publicist and himself are all on the same level. I thought this was a great way to put it.
VAJ: You tell us there are a million ways to be successful – you only need to find one, yours. Can you share specific ways photographers can find exactly what is their one way to become successful?
BEATE: Stop trying to be everything to everyone. That never works. You only need one thing you’re really good at, to be the expert, the best, the guru, the know-it-all, and that one thing is what you market and promote. Find out what you are best at. Most of the time, what you love the most might be your best thing. But sometimes you are very good at something that is not your favorite thing to shoot.
I learned to let my clients and customers decide what they want me to be, so I can be that. Let me give you an example: When I began Photography Business Secrets a few weeks ago, I posted a request on lots of photographer forums. I said: If you could have an hour with me and ask me anything, what would it be? I received over 200 questions! I build my teleseminar series and my upcoming products based on what photographers really want to know. Do you see the difference? It is not what I think they want to know, but what they told me they want to know.
Just like that, a photographer needs to be what his clients need him to be, not what he wants to be. If you want to shoot pictures for yourself, images you love and admire, you might need to put them in a gallery. In commercial photography it’s all about filling needs. What need does your service fulfill for your clients?
VAJ: One of the most elusive aspects for new photographers is finding their niche and their style. How would you define both niche and style, and how would you advise us to find our own?
BEATE: I think I just answered the niche part. For the style, live with your images. I have given this advice for a long time. Take all the images out of your portfolio and plaster them everywhere – and I mean that. Bathroom, kitchen, living room, hallway – anywhere there is an open surface.
Do that for a month.
Believe me; you will know what your best images are. As you take down the ones you begin to dislike, you get to the core of who you are as a photographer. If, after a month, you still have stuff on the walls – good for you, you’ve got something to work with.
You find your style by learning about other photographers and seeing things you like and might want to do. Over time, you develop your style but you need to have the technique down and find enough inspiration around you.
Your art never stands still; have to work on your art all the time, never knowing what the next image will look like. Have an idea and play with it. Every artist evolves.
VAJ: Speaking to photographers who have no business contacts, but have a great talent to offer and lots of passion to present it, what would you advise us to do in order to get the contacts we need to establish our work?
BEATE: You need to learn the business behind photography first, so you understand what you are doing, what you need to do, and how to do it. Otherwise it’s a long path to go. You can always buy mailing lists and start that way. But as with everything, knowledge is the key.
Get your information from people who have been successful. Don’t fall for wanna-bes who make no money. Find the photographers who are what you want to be, and then learn from them. Go where they go, do what they do. Find a coach or business consultant who can assist you to strengthen your weaker points. That includes selling, marketing, networking, financial planning, business plan preparation etc. Go to seminars, conferences and invest in workshops, products and services that will get you there faster. Every successful person has a coach, athletes have a coach maybe you need one, too?
VAJ: Does the internet come into play in your advice? And did you utilize any of this same advice back when you started your photography business?
BEATE: Back when I started Beateworks in 1993, the Internet wasn’t much of a force to reckon with. It was all personal contacts and faxes. Portfolios were Fed Ex’d; I mailed thousands and thousands of promotional pieces. The Internet has changed absolutely everything.
Before I launched Photography Business Secrets, not even two months ago, I spent 9 months going from conference to conference. And I invested a lot of money working with two coaches. Once I got my head around information marketing, social marketing and networking, and why an automated back-end is the key to everything, I had a total “AHA!” moment. One week later, I put up my website, had my first subscriber that day, and my first teleseminar (for paying subscribers) is already in progress. When you learn the business first, then by the time the idea kicks in, you know exactly what you need to do and things move very fast.
VAJ: If a photographer signs up to have you as their Photography Business Success Coach, what will you teach them? And what mediums do use in your coaching?
BEATE: Glad you asked! 😉
Currently I am running a 4-week teleseminar, which is sold out, and I’ll launch another one soon. These 4-week courses consist of 3 weekly sessions with someone in the industry, usually a photographer of high caliber-my last guest was Andrew Eccles-someone from the print or publishing industry, and someone from the advertising industry. The last session is a 90-minute business session with me, which covers a lot of marketing, selling, and promotion ideas – it’s an intense work session with handouts. I want photographers to learn this stuff and go out and make money.
The “Photography Business Secrets Action Handbook” will be launched within the next two months. This is an extensive guide with audio CDs so you can play them when you drive or do the dishes. They are jam-packed with forms, contracts, tips, tricks, secrets and valuable how-to information for photographers.
I am about to launch my May Madness Charter Membership program. For the discounted rate of $77 a month, subscribers receive a monthly audio CD with Photography Business Secrets professional guests. I have a Creative Director scheduled, CEOs of photographic companies, and a huge red-carpet photographer. These are all top-notch people in the industry. I am well connected and will give my subscribers access to people that they would otherwise never get to see. The advantage of a subscription is that every month, you get your friendly reminder to do something. Every month someone else gives you a new perspective and idea. As a bonus, I give the first month away for only $1. What I do is backed by a double guarantee. If you cannot find one idea that you can use, send me the audio back and you get your money back, and if it’s just not for you, you can cancel anytime.
In addition, every month I facilitate a free teleseminar with a cool guest. For May 20th we have Stephen Mallon scheduled; he photographed the salvage operation after the crash of United 1549. That will be a great call! Your readers can find the login information on my blog, upper right corner.
My products are right for photographers who want to beat the recession and take action. Everything I teach is about how to stop making excuses – I am not one to listen to complaints! Instead, I show you how to make it. This stuff really works, but you have to be willing to invest in your career and implement what you learn. And it is WORK. It is not for photographers who think they can’t afford to spend money. Spending is a negative trigger word and it makes people “contract” psychologically. These folks don’t need to sign up; there are plenty of forums out there that buy into the fear and negativity.
I have a much better idea… which is what I do. When I write those checks and swipe my credit card, I always concentrate on how much money that will generate for me. I only look for one to three ideas that I can use – and I always find those. Unless I let the money go, it can’t come back to me. This is a wealthy persons mindset. I am not suggesting to be reckless and go on a spending spree but an investment into your career is perfectly in order. Many professions require a certain number of hours of continuous education a year. Perhaps you can look at it this way?
VAJ: Are there other areas your course covers that we should be aware of also?
BEATE: Everything we just mentioned is all about the business end, but I also do private coaching. If you are interested, please contact me at info@PhotographyBusinessSecrets.com. I am in the process of putting together a coaching program for professional photographers who want to get to the next level.
VAJ: What final thoughts would you like to share with photographers who want to have it all?
BEATE: Believe in yourself – but not in a passive, sitting-on-the-coach-eating-popcorn way. Believe in yourself in such a way that you make investments in things that further your career. Continue to learn, enlist help, join groups and just say you will – and then go do it!
We can’t thank you enough, Beate for spending this time with us.
Be sure to see Photography Business Success Coach and browse the many offerings of Beate Chelette’s books, videos, and speaking engagements. Check out her teleseminars, consultation services and coaching programs too.