This is Alan, one of the co-founders of CarveOn. Started as a hobby business in 2011, CarveOn has grown to become the leading indigenous Irish manufacturer of premium leather golf, tech and travel accessories. But it's not been all sunshine and lollipops. Along the way I've gained some hard-won knowledge about the many (many) pitfalls involved in starting an online business. I'd like to start using this blog to share some of these experiences with you, starting with the story of how we found the perfect photographers.
If you noticed our website went through a complete overhaul in the last few months, it's thanks to these guys. But finding the perfect photographers wasn't an easy task so I wanted to share the process we went through in hopes to help other small businesses. We believe that upping our collective game in this area has proved to be one of the driving factors behind CarveOn's success in 2015. If you get it right, it could have a similar effect on your own business.
Like the majority of start-ups, we've bootstrapped our way up from humble beginnings. Between teaching ourselves the fundamentals of leather work to developing an efficient logistics system and mastering the rudiments of an antiquated plumbing system, we've had a crash course in on-the-job training since day one. But there comes a time for every business when it needs to abandon the jack of all trades mentality of it's founders and embrace an outsider's set of skills.
This moment came for CarveOn when we outsourced our photography. Gary and I realised our product shots were good, but not great. We've worked tirelessly to ensure our products are crafted to an exacting standard of quality. We've gone to great lengths to source high-quality leather and invested heavily in the best equipment we could find. However, this all counted for nowt if the product photography failed to reflect this as accurately and honestly as possible.
To start with we began a trawl through the commercial photographers working in the greater Dublin area. As you would expect, the quality on offer ranged from the fabulously talented, but highly priced, to the cheap and cheerful, but garishly ugly.Initially we focused on desk research which meant reviewing an almost never ending array of online portfolios. We firmly believed the chosen photographer should have already amassed a decent portfolio of commercial work. This stipulation thinned out the options for us considerably. Soon we had whittled the available candidates down to a possible four. To these, we sent a detailed brief, which outlined our precise requirements (I really can't stress how beneficial it is to be upfront and honest about your expectations at this early stage). Importantly, we also included links to photos we liked online, which eliminated the need for us to waffle on about the style and quality of photography we wanted.
From the original four, three responded with quotes and requested products for test shots. Our aim was to find quality and value rather than the cheapest price. The old adage of buying cheap and having to buy twice loomed large on our thought process. So too did the importance of forming a strong, long lasting relationship with whoever we chose.
With the test shots back, one set of test shots stood out from the pack. They were produced by a joint collaboration between Alex Hutchinson, a fashion photographer, and Luca Truffarelli, a still life photographer and videographer.
Alex and Luca are Dublin based but work on projects internationally. While we originally thought they may have been out of our reach, we were able to come to a financial arrangement which was acceptable to both sides, compared diaries and scheduled the shoot for a couple of weeks later.
To the uninitiated, sorting out the logistics for a full product catalogue photo shoot are daunting. For the shoot to create a uniform aesthetic across our digital channels, we had to ensure we had all our products in every available colour ready and waiting for the guys. So with their studio stuffed to the gills with not only our entire product range but also an impressive arsenal of camera and lighting equipment, our product shoot finally began. To say we were delighted with the results would be a gross understatement. For the first time since launching back in 2011, the CarveOn product photos finally did justice to the end product.
We immediately arranged a follow-up shoot, this time to capture the workshop itself. With a sound working relationship now established between ourselves and Alex and Luca, we decided against being too pedantic about compiling a brief. Rather, we gave the guys complete freedom to shoot the workshop and the manufacturing process as they saw fit. We love the photos so much we created a special place on carveon.com for you to tour our workshop.
Once again we were blown away with the results. But it must be stressed, this style of shoot relied heavily on artistic skill, whereas product photography is a much more prosaic affair (yet has an infinitely bigger impact on your bottom line). Personally, I would make sure you don't put the cart before the horse in this respect. If you have limited resources, make sure you get a fully comprehensive range of shots of your actual products before embarking on more artistic endeavours (the icing is pretty useless without the cake).
Based on the initial success of our first two professional photo shoots we've already lined up a number of exciting photography projects with the guys. The prospect of getting strangers so involved in the business was a bit daunting at first but we're honestly looking forward to working with Alex and Luca again. Their innate ability to grasp what CarveOn is about, and reflect this in their work has made us consider them an integral part of our team.
In short, the process of choosing the right photographer for your business is, without a doubt, a tricky one. It can be challenging, both in terms of demands on your time, as well as on your resources. But when it's done right, it can have a transformative effect on your business. I hope our experience will be of some help to other small online businesses out there.