We asked Becky Ball to share her advice for budding Photo Managers and talk about how she got into photo organizing and digital video.
With her scrapbooking and photo retailing background, becoming a photo manager felt like a perfect fit for Becky Ball. Her first step was to become a member of The Photo Managers (formerly APPO). Over time, Becky made steady progress towards what is now her full-time career and her own business, Beacon Digital Video.
How did you evolve from working in a photo retailer/lab to being a photo manager?
The two worlds of photo managers and photo retail stores that are still in business are so connected, share many of the same goals. The photo lab I worked in managed to survive the digital technology takeover when film and cameras went away. We did that by offering archiving services, digitizing printed photos, and making photo books.
When I went through my divorce, and after 14 years of staying home, I needed a job and I didn’t want to go back to corporate. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about! At the same time, I didn’t want to give up some photo-organizing clients that I was working with on the side.
I knew the owner of a local photo store because I used to get my own photos printed there. So I approached him and we agreed that I would work part-time at the store, but also work in people’s homes to do photo organizing. Whenever those clients needed scanning or other services done, I would bring the business to the store. It was a perfect fit and it exploded me into where I am today! Being in a retail store taught me a lot about how to listen to customers’ stories, learn what’s important to them, and help them reach their end goals.
What draws customers to working with you and how do you find out what they need?
I’ve had a few clients that have come to me because they don’t feel they are getting the same level of customer service at the store anymore. It really proves how important it is to use the right language and to understand their needs. It’s important to have what I like to call “caring conversations”. I start conversations about their families, their stories, and their pictures. Carefully listening for key things in the conversation will clue you into what their end goal really is. Once we have established their goal, I advise them on the steps that we can take together to get there.
Tell us about one of your most memorable clients.
One of my clients was in the early stages of dementia. His family had hired a caseworker and all that was on his mind was getting his family photos in order. He wanted to create a legacy photo album to pass on to the next generation so that his life story wouldn’t get lost. Because of his state of mind, the possibility that his memories would be forgotten was very real, making the project even more urgent.
When the caseworker came into the store and told me the story, I explained that, in addition to working in the store, I was a photo organizer. When I met the family, they hired me on the spot.
Over the course of almost three years, I would go in and sit with this client while he pulled out photos from bags and boxes and put them in chronological order. Because of his condition, this work needed to be done in a slow and calm manner, allowing him to verbalize what he could remember. I’m an organizer, not a therapist, but the process became almost therapeutic. He looked forward to our photo-joy sessions, it helped him to sleep better at night. His family would say that he would get up really happy in the mornings when he knew I was going to be coming to work with him.
How has your business model shifted to video digitizing?
I was happy at the store and not looking for a change But one day we met a local businessman who wanted to sell his movie transferring business in order to retire. When the store owner decided not to take on Beacon Digital Video, because he was also about to retire himself, he recommended that I purchase the company. Once I started, I never looked back. I dove straight in, got a bank loan and I did it!
Part of our agreement was to keep the name Beacon Digital Video. As an established company on the seacoast, it was only to my advantage. To incorporate photo organizing, I officially added “and photo services” to the company name. Home movie transfers are our primary service, and they also serve as a marketing tool to get the word out about our photo organizing services.
How do home movie transfers lead to photo organizing projects?
After a project is completed, I always put in at least three business cards with the invoice. When the clients come to pick up their projects, I tell them to check out the business cards because they list all of my photo-organizing services. At this point, their eyes light up at the possibility of having their photos organized!
“Home move transfers” is a more frequently searched term than “photo organizing” so it brings more customers to us. Many clients have heard a radio advertisement for Legacy Box, which prompts them to search for home movie transfer services in their own area, leading them to us.
How have you benefitted from using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on your website?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is really important. Our current website may seem boring but I don’t always like the way it looks, but I love it because it’s working. Our website has on it all the words that clients are searching for on Google. Many new clients find us initially through an internet search. Once they call me, it’s about developing a relationship with that customer, connecting, and going above and beyond so they can’t wait to brag about me!
What are some of the ways that you go “above and beyond” for your clients?
I will often answer my business phone on weekends when I’m available. One Saturday, during the heart of COVID, I happened to be in my studio when my phone rang. The call was from a man who was just about to box up all his old film to send to a big digitizing company. He got nauseous at the idea of sending it away so he stopped, went back to his computer, and found me.
On our call, he asked me to tell him what I could do for him that the big company wouldn’t. Jokingly, I answered, “Well, first and foremost, it’s a Saturday, and I answered the phone on the second ring. And I’m not a robot.”
Going above and beyond does not necessarily mean jumping off mountains. It’s doing simple things like answering your phone and being a human being. So much of our business is word-of-mouth, so when you get that hook, you don’t want to let it go.
It’s important not to nickel and dime the customer. You may need to take an extra call without them paying for it, but keeping those caring conversations going is worth your time. We are lucky that we are now in a time when it’s trendy to work with small local businesses! Seemingly little gestures make a big impact on the client because you don’t get that in today’s corporate world.
What do you like least about your business?
I have many days where I find myself saying “I can’t believe I get to do this for my job!” But in any type of work, there are going to be different levels of stress. When I was an employee, I still got paid whether the store was busy or not. As a business owner, however, you are solely responsible for generating business and your income depends on that.
Another challenge is sourcing and maintaining the equipment required for doing movie transfers. While this service opens up many doors for more business, you also have to purchase and take care of old machines such as VCRs which can be unpredictable.
What do you love most about your business?
Most days are just really fun! I love the work involved in doing video transfers, editing, working with sound, slideshows, and more. It’s also challenging in a really good way as I literally learn something new every day.
The most enjoyable thing is helping people achieve the things that are so meaningful to them that they couldn’t get done themselves. So many times when people are dropping off their media, they say they feel like they are handing over their babies. And that’s huge on two levels. First, it’s almost like they are literally handing over their kids because that’s what all of their pictures and movies are of. But at the same time, it’s their babies because these are their irreplaceable originals. I feel honored to gain the trust of complete strangers to handle something so meaningful in their life and bring it back up to viewable standards and protected for the future. There is just nothing like it.
How has being a member of The Photo Managers helped your business?
Without The Photo Managers, I would not be here or have even started. Being already supported by The Photo Managers allowed me to dive in and buy a business as a single mom on a very tight budget. I had confidence because I knew I could be successful with the support available from The Photo Managers organization.
What advice would you give to those just starting out as a photo manager?
Definitely take advantage of The Photo Managers. I went to their conferences, and I did all the training they offered. Even though it made me feel nauseous, because I felt inadequate, I would also find ways to volunteer. I put myself out there because I wanted to learn and gain confidence. Doing so allowed me to evolve in the world of this business.
For someone just getting started, expect to work hard. At times, you’ll have to dig deep to find the energy that it’s going to take.
Watch the full interview below to hear more about Becky Ball’s success story as she answers more questions from our live audience.
#1: A high standard of customer service keeps clients coming back to small businesses.
#2: Make sure your website contains the keywords people are searching for, a key part of good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices.
#3: Running a business is hard work. But the rewards of helping people with their precious photo and video collections are worth it!