This month, Georgia McCabe interviews H&H Color Lab customers Scott and Meg Sockel owners/photographers of Image Society, a 3-time award winner of “The Knot’s Best Of Weddings” which is an annual listing of top wedding pros and venues as rated by brides from all over the U.S.
Georgia: How did you get into photography? How long have you been it?
Megan: We are a husband and wife team, but it started off initially as my business first. I was in the darkroom for the yearbook club in high school during ‘98-99. That started my interest for sure. But when I started college, I thought I would be a teacher and quickly changed my degree to business and took all my electives in art and photography. During college, I began working for a school photography company and in my spare time I was doing wedding photography and portraits and it quickly turned into working 2 full time jobs! And that’s about when Scott and I met.
That’s when we started Image Society and began working together.
Georgia: So are you primarily wedding photography?
Megan: Yes, right now the business is wedding and some sport leagues. About 95% of our business is weddings. These are the two areas we specialize in.
Georgia: Do you remember your first wedding client?
Megan: [Chuckling] Yes!
Scott: Oh I do too! And my story into photography is a lot different than Megan’s, but let her answer this one!
Megan: My first wedding was film and it was terrifying! I was working with a friend and the wedding was her friend.
Georgia: Scott, are you a photographer?
Scott: Yes, I shoot as well. I have a little background in photography because I was a journalism major in college – so I had a chance to spend time in the darkroom and shoot with really old-school 35mm equipment like the Pentax K1000.
Georgia: Oh yeah, the good ol’ days.
Scott: I never really pursued photography – it was interesting to me, I was more of an artist with an eye. And after college I graduated with a PR degree. And down the road I took up landscape design which is also a huge lifelong passion of mine. And that’s when Megan met me – when I was a landscape designer.
Georgia: So how did you two meet exactly?
Megan: Well I was photographing a band and Scott and I met in the bar where the band was playing. They had hired me to do some press work for them, and Scott was friends with the band.
Scott: You know – good ol’ American love story right there! On our first date, the one thing that sealed the deal for a 2nd date is that we both have parents who work together and are self-employed. That’s something we’ve both grown up with and is natural to us. It’s cool and a bit unique.
Georgia: Were you still working both jobs Megan?
Megan: Yes – I was still doing both jobs, and Scott quickly figured out that if he wanted to spend any time with me at all, he was going to have to come along. So I put a camera in his hands [chuckling].
Scott: And what Meg said to me was “I don’t care if you get only 1 good shot. Just make sure everyone has a good time and keep them happy”. And that’s where my role started with Megan.
Megan: And the great thing was when I looked at his images I was like “Wow, these are amazing! This is so great!” So we finished that year and Scott mentored alongside of me. Mentoring has always been how I learned and grew – I was always watching and working alongside a photographer, and it was a natural teaching style for me with Scott. I also see it as a way of sort of paying it forward.
Georgia: So what year was Image Society officially launched?
Scott & Megan: 2007 – The year before we were married.
Georgia: What do you see as your biggest challenges in the business today?
Megan: The business is running great for us, so I see our biggest challenge to be more of a personal nature. Carving out time as husband and wife and thinking about family. Weddings usually happen on weekends which are everyone else’s day off, you know? So for us, finding time to be together outside of the business is probably our challenge. Finding the balance between work and personal.
Scott: I would mirror that. We’re always in business mode to make sure the business is solid, which it is. So I agree with Megan, we’re starting to awaken to the idea of the finding a better balance for us between personal and work.
Georgia: Do you find that there’s a lot of competition in your area?
Megan: Every city is swamped with photographers and people with cameras – but honestly I don’t worry about the competition. Our clients find us. I’ve never been concerned about who is the new up and coming photographer in our area. At the end of the day, the new photographers can either run a business or they can’t.
Georgia: That’s what I think is so neat about your business; you have a business background and PR background. And you’re right, there are a lot of photographers out there but they may not have the best business mindset or the ability to even market themselves. And I see that as a huge advantage for you two.
Megan: In the wedding world, people are hiring us a year or more in advance. You have to make sure you’re running a business that will be around! People aren’t spending $50 on a wedding – it’s a big investment. We never take that for granted. We just happen to be really great artists as well as good business people.
Georgia: How did you get picked by The Knot for best weddings?
Megan: We’ve won “The Knot Best Of” 3 years in a row – clearly it’s one of the main places we market. Brides leave reviews and they’re very honest. After so many reviews based on specific criteria set by The Knot, we’d get an email telling us we won!
Scott: “Mostly our success has come from the amazing reviews that brides will leave for us. When we get inquiries, we even drive prospects to our page on The Knot so they can see the reviews. It’s a win-win for us and The Knot. ”
Georgia: That’s a huge accomplishment! Tell me a little more about your marketing.
Scott: The Knot of course, but one of the other things we do is Bridal Shows, up to 4 locally a year. We take those very seriously and put a lot of effort into our booth and it shows – we get a lot of response due to the amount of the quality work we display.
Megan: [laughing] We basically tear down our studio and set it up at a bridal show.
Georgia: Do you find you get a lot of referral business?
Megan: This year especially it seems a lot of sisters and friends and a particular group of sorority sisters. It’s been great!
Georgia: Do you find that people call you and want additional services beyond the wedding?
Megan: How it’s worked for us, if someone has been married within the year and they call up wanting photography services, we’ll do it because we’re all about the relationships. But if it’s a client from 4-5 years ago, we most likely won’t get the call. They will go to a newbie or someone that only does kids, or even a friend that just likes to take pictures for free. And I know that because I’m friends with them and see the images they post on Facebook. I’m not offended because it’s just not my business plan focus. I wanted to set up our business based on contracts and family photos don’t usually involve contracts.
Scott: Our first priority is being the best wedding photographers we can be, and we stress that to all our clients. When a client inquires about a family/newborn/senior shoot etc… we confidently say no problem! I feel if we can successfully shoot a wedding, including all the groups and families that take part in the day, then we can confidently shoot those types of sessions. To me, its not surprising that families, babies, and seniors are where most photographers start because its something that an individual person can easily manage. At Image Society we like to focus on one thing and do it well!
Megan: Most of the advice I’ve received over the years have come from really seasoned photographers. They are not the super popular speakers at WPPI, these guys are “the suits” that sit in the back of the room. They know a lot – and I respect them tremendously. I could care less what my peers are doing, I want to know what this seasoned business person has done and learned so that I can be the best business person myself!
Georgia: Tell me, why do you use H&H?
Megan: We were at WPPI in a sports class. I ran into one of my mentors and I asked him “who do you use”? His answer? H&H Color Lab. His name is Jeff Edwards and he introduced us to Jeff Locklear and then we were invited down to the lab, and offered training. We were blown away by their service and their sense of family. It was really an amazing red-carpet treatment.
You know, every lab is going to have an issue at one time or another – it’s just the way it is. But what’s important to Scott and I and what differentiates H&H from the rest is how they fix it. We’re just blown away to have H&H as part of our team. Their products and how they continue to evolve; they’re the type of people we want to give our business to.
Scott: Another thing to add is the amazing access that we have to them for any kind of trouble-shooting or additional training.
Georgia: I agree, their customer service and personal touch is an industry standard! What are you doing on the sports-side?
Scott: We had a new opportunity come up with a local dance studio. And H&H came through for us.
Megan: Since then, we’ve gained other dance studios. And with large orders, we need a lab that is responsive and high quality. I knew how to organize it, and I knew how to shoot it, but what I needed help with was producing it. And H&H took the ball and ran with it and really gave me the confidence that they are the best partner for us to work with. We’re very fortunate and extremely happy with our relationship.
Guest post by Georgia McCabe follow her on Google+ – As an author, speaker, trainer and social media and photography evangelist, her perspectives on social media appear in print in her newest book entitled “SocialMorphosis – Transforming Your Business through Social Media”. Georgia is also a co-author of the book “The Relationship Age”, with social media guru Mari Smith. Georgia is a frequent guest blogger for our professional photography lab.