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An interview with professional pet photographer, Ren Netherland

LORI: I bet you get a lot of repeat customers and referrals. How do you track it all? Is it a fairly complicated system?

REN: Actually, I do get a lot of repeat customers but I’ve never really asked for referrals. I probably should. I guess I’ve just never really needed to so I don’t bother.

LORI: Do you collect email addresses from your clients and send them an email when you know you’re coming back in town? And have you ever tried emailing them with special deals or an offer to print Christmas cards around the holidays or anything?

REN: No. Again, I probably should but usually I don’t like to sit down and do work on my days off. When I’m off, I’m off. The only real day I come in here when I’m not shooting is the one day a year I sit down with a map of the U.S. and plan out my schedule for the upcoming year. I mean, yeah, I bet you could come up with a million ways I could be more efficient or make more money but I kinda like my freedom. I’m not one for sitting in an office and typing up emails or licking stamps. What I do works and it’s what I’ve done for years.

LORI: So you don’t ask for referrals and you don’t solicit repeat orders? How do you find business then? Newspaper ads?

REN: No. Believe it or not, I tried that and they don’t really work. Not only that but they’re expensive. I decided a few years back I wasn’t going to pay for advertising any more and since that day, I haven’t needed to. I just call up a bunch pet shops and groomers in the areas I’m traveling to and tell them I’m coming. If they agree to have me, I send them a package of flyers and signup sheets. And that’s something I did spend a lot of time on…

You can’t just send these places a bunch of make-shift flyers and random instructions and expect a good result. It took me years to figure out what makes people schedule appointments and what makes pet shops take more orders. There’s a copy of my flyers and sign-up sheets in that book I gave you. If you want, we can give these to your workshop attendees in September. If they follow this model they shouldn’t have any problem. I’ve been using the same flyer for years.

LORI: So that’s it? No advertising and no email follow-up. Just show up and shoot?

REN: Yep, that’s pretty much it. I mean, I can operate this way because I’m good at what I do but it’s not like it’s a hard thing to learn. In fact, I’ve taught several dozen other pet photographers and those that wanted a traveling business are out there doing exactly what I do today. Some people just want to learn pet photography to take better pictures of their own pets and I appreciate that. Others like the stock and magazine cover world. They want to sell pet photos to greeting cards and calendars and there’s a market for that too.

LORI: Considering the pet photographers you’ve taught in the past, is there any one single trait that makes one more successful than another? I mean, when they walk in the door, can you instinctively tell whether or not the person will be a success?

REN: No, it’s not really like that. Really, anybody can do this. It’s not that hard. You have to learn four basic camera set-up instructions and you have to learn about the lights and backgrounds — the colors behind each picture, that is (speaking of which, wait until you see what I show you later today. This will knock your socks off and save you thousands of dollars in expenses in background designs alone. This one, easy trick is what I tell all pet photographers to use when they’re first starting out because they likely don’t want to invest in a bunch of supplies upfront).

LORI: Great, that sounds interesting. I’m all about easy set-up when you’re first starting out. Is that something you can show us in Hershey at the Pet Photo Workshop in September?

REN: Oh, absolutely. It’s easy. And it’ll save everyone a lot of money. You’re going to love it.

LORI: Ok, one last question — What’s the weirdest animal you’ve ever been asked to photograph?

REN: Hmm. I’d say either a bat or a tarantula. The bat was easy to photograph but the poor thing peed on the branch when the first flash went off. I guess the light scared him. I felt really bad. And the spider… well, the spider was easy but at the end of the shoot, the owner said, “Wow, I’m just glad he didn’t jump on you. Usually when I get that close, he jumps on me.” Let’s just say I learned my lesson that day. These days I ask the owner if the pet is likely to jump or bite or anything I’m not ready for. I’m not sure what I would have done if he had jumped on me. My guess is I would have hit him off and likely hurt him which wouldn’t have been good.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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