November 01, 2011 — Once competitors, now friends; two wedding photographers discuss the benefits of competition…friendly or otherwise…
For years, Danny Weiss of Danny Weiss Photo and Eric Lagstein of Be Creative Photography had been crossing paths, figuratively, as would-be-clients would mention the other's name during sales meetings, and the two were often pitted against one another in a bid for a New York City-area wedding.
Then came the night when Eric's wife and partner, Brooke, went into labor with their first child. Familiar with Danny's work, Eric had placed him on the short list of NYC photographers who could handle an upscale Manhattan wedding. He called in a favor, and Danny shot the wedding—giving Eric and Brooke peace of mind and more than satisfying Eric's wedding client. A friendship was born.
Today and most days for the last 18 months, Eric and Danny speak on the phone multiple times, sharing all kinds of information—a free exchange of ideas that amounts to a kind of never-ending workshop. Once wary of opening up their businesses to a competitor, they now see the benefits of sharing, brainstorming and otherwise collaborating with the competition. Elizabeth Yelen sat down with Eric and Danny to see what makes a relationship like theirs work.
What does each of you bring to the table that you such good working partners?
Danny Weiss: I come from an acting background. From those years of pounding the pavement, I learned a lot about networking, marketing and creating key relationships.
Eric Lagstein: I have a finance background so I am good at the numbers: costs, the big picture, the bottom line, and simplifying the business based on numbers.
What is the greatest advantage to being completely open about business practices and challenges?
EL: You get more information to help evaluate your decisions. I am running an entire business—from accounting to Photoshop to sales to photography—all on my own, and it can be difficult to navigate and be an expert in all these areas with no sounding board. In the past, when I looked at what was working and what wasn’t, I didn't have much to compare it to. Now with Danny, I am able to say, well, two of us are doing same thing and it's working.
DW: It's so easy to exist in a bubble, sitting in front of my computer. You can convince yourself you are doing well but when you let someone in you hold a mirror to what you're doing. So when Eric asks me why I do something a certain way, I may realize I am just doing it that way because I have always done it that way. But it may not be the best way to do something. I have definitely become more efficient and it has forced me to analyze each and every aspect of my business. In the end this helps me to better the client experience.
What is the one thing you have agreed to disagree upon?
EL: I'm stumped.
DW: Every day we disagree about something, but I can't remember what we are disagreeing about.
What specific information were you hesitant to share with one another?
EL: The only thing, initially, was what photographers I get my leads from. But now that we pass business back and forth to one another, I know that where the leads come from doesn't matter. We both win.
DW: At the beginning, I was reluctant to show Eric how I work with clients during the portrait shoot. This is an area where I shine and is very specific to me. But it turns out Eric was saying and doing things very similar to the way I was doing them.
Name a specific task or project that you worked on together that saved you time or made you money (or both).
EL: We are both fighting every day to do every single aspect of running a business. One area we both identified that could use our focus is that our clients were frustrated on the back end that they didn't know all great things they could do with their pictures.
DW: We were frustrated that they didn't know all the great things they could do with their pictures!
EL: Then we started talking about how we could best present this information to our clients, and we divided and conquered to create a product sales guide to present to clients after a wedding. It will go live in 2012.
What is the most significant change you have made to your business as a result of working with one another?
EL: My pricing structure and how I set up my packages to encourage clients to choose higher packages.
DW: I changed my focus on the bottom line. I think Eric has an innate understanding of the bottom line. Working with Eric has made me step back and look at what my true costs are.
Would you recommend this kind of friendly competitor relationship to other studios?
DW: I feel really lucky to have met another studio with similar business ideas, values and concepts. Having this ongoing relationship with Eric has done nothing but help my business.
EL: We are both motivated to push ourselves both artistically and as business owners to construct a client experience that is unlike that offered by other photographers. Finding another studio with that similar focus and tunnel vision has helped to improve my business in a number of ways.