In 2022 Cheryl DiFrank was a recipient of the first annual Rising Tide Awards presented at The Photo Managers’ annual conference. The Rising Tide Award stems from one of TPM Founder Cathi Nelson’s favorite quotes, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. It is awarded to a member who embodies this idea by sharing information freely, being a listening ear, and supporting fellow Photo Managers as they grow and achieve success together.
As the daughter of a photographer, photos have always played an important role in Cheryl DiFrank’s life. From a young age, she was interested in the business side of photography and loved hearing the stories behind the photos. In 1993, when digital storage of photos was just emerging, her father approached her about starting a stock photography agency. Their goal was to digitize every photo that came into the agency from the stat. Cheryl quickly learned about file formats, color correction, digital storage, and more. Their business grew to represent 450 photographers and a detailed database of over half a million images for licensing.
By 2012, as the landscape for stock photography changed, Cheryl recognized the need to adapt to a new market. After helping a friend manage her digital photo library, she learned about professional photo organizers and the organization called the Association of Personal Photo Organizers, now known as The Photo Managers. In 2014 she started her business as a Photo Manager and it has steadily grown since then.
What services do you offer and how do you find clients?
The services that I offer are print organizing and digital organizing. I will do books though I don’t consider them to be my main offering. I also do camera scanning, which changed my life. I don’t do video conversion, but I am more than happy to help my clients find someone who can help them with that.
The main way that I get clients is through word of mouth. Clients were pretty consistent and steady from the beginning. And I always felt guilty when someone would ask me what my marketing plan was because I just don’t have one. I would feel guilty saying that because you’re supposed to have a marketing plan. But I just never had time to do one. Thankfully, I was always busy enough that I was just never willing to put aside billable work to create a marketing plan, even though it still probably would have been wise because you never know what will happen.
Where are your clients located?
Most of my clients are local (in the Maryland area). I do have some remote clients that heard about me from a family member or friend. I just actually finished a project for someone who showed me all their prints from California. But for the most part, it’s local in the Maryland, DC, Virginia area.
What do you wish you had known when you were first starting out as a Photo Manager?
The first thing is to put your business signature at the bottom of every email. No matter who you’re sending it to, it could be for the soccer carpool, to the painter who’s painting your house, or to whoever has nothing to do with photos. But we can make sure that your job title and at least your email are on there. Because we know that so many times when we say what we do, or people hear what we do, “professional photo organizer” raises eyebrows, and people get really excited. I’ve definitely gotten emails from people that I sent emails totally unrelated to photo organizing who responded and wanted to know more about what I do.
The other one is to talk about your business every chance you get, I remember someone telling me that and I’ve never been very good at self-promotion. But I’ve forced myself to just talk about my business every chance I get. Have your elevator speech ready at all times.
What is your “elevator speech”?
“I’m a professional photo organizer, (you immediately get an eyebrow raise) so I help people get their photos organized, whether it’s the boxes and boxes of photos in the attic, the print photos, or the digital photos spread all over their phones and devices. I help them get everything organized and cleaned out by doing things like removing duplicates, and scanning and stuff.”
And usually, that’s all I have to say. Clearly, they don’t always end up hiring me, but they’re just so excited to hear, and even if they don’t hire me, they know now that we exist.
One of the areas One of the things that I get really the most of my business from is local listservs which if you’re not familiar with the term listserv is kind of like Next Door or an email group that someone sets up for the group whether it’s your neighborhood, your HOA, your kids’ schools. And it’s just a place where people have something in common and can go on and ask questions or, you know, my neighborhood listserv, they’ll go on and as for recommendations of landscapers or dog walkers, or does anybody know where I can get my photos scanned? You know, things like that. And then you’ve got this whole collective of knowledge that people will chime in.
I had a situation recently, where there was a neighborhood near me that has a listserv, and someone that I don’t know who lives in that neighborhood posted a question about how to deal with a collection of photos. And three of my former clients that live in that neighborhood posted randomly and independently posted responses to her with really lovely testimonials, which was very sweet. And I was so touched that they recommend my services. I not only got a call from the person with the original question, but I got probably 10, or 11 calls from all the other people that were on that listserv that saw that conversation as well.
What do you love about being a Photo Manager?
I really love pretty much almost every aspect of my job, but I love working with the clients I just absolutely love the people that I work with. Over nine years, there’s probably been less than a handful of people that I was really =happy to be done with at the end of the project and more than happy to part ways. Otherwise, I just love them. I’m so honored that they have trusted me with their photos and their family memories. I absolutely love getting to know them personally and directly but also through their photos and getting to know their families. And I take that very seriously. And the joy and relief that they feel which I’m sure many of us have experienced, probably all of us have experienced, when they see the finished product and that their photos are safe.
A lot of times, especially for older clients, they don’t really understand it in the beginning of the project, when I’m trying to explain what it’s going to look like in the end. And then when they see the SmugMug site or the finished product of all the photos, and they can actually see the pictures again, it’s just so rewarding.
What do you not love about being a Photo Manager?
I had a hard time thinking about what I don’t like because there really isn’t much that I don’t enjoy. But then it dawned on me that it’s when technology doesn’t work properly. And that’s what I don’t like, when the hard drive fails, or the iCloud library is taking forever to sync, or the software doesn’t work the way I think it should, that’s where usually everything comes to a screeching halt. And I don’t have an IT department to call in to come and fix it. Everything comes to a stop and standstill until I can figure out how to solve whatever the problem is.
One of the ways that I’ve been able to deal with that though, is that I usually have multiple projects going on at once, kind of concurrently. And it’s usually a mix of print and digital projects. So when I do have one of those days where technology is not my friend, and it’s just something’s gone wrong, or I’m waiting for the replacement hard drive to come from Backblaze, I can go and kind of pivot over to one of those big projects and kind of go old school, lay everything out on the table, and not need technology necessarily, and start the sorting of the printed photos. Sometimes you just got to step away from something that’s not working properly, then come back with a clear head.
How has being a member of The Photo Managers benefitted you?
The Photo Managers is like the best virtual office and the best co-workers I’ve ever had. I really feel like that’s what we are, we’re not competitors, we’re co-workers, and we’re all in the same boat. The members-only Facebook group is certainly the resource that I use the most. It’s like our water cooler. We can meet there and share stories, complain about clients, and certainly ask questions. That’s basically my IT department. I have gotten so much benefit from that not only just in solving problems but just emotionally. Many of us work in isolation in our homes and it’s been absolutely the greatest resource for me just to have a connection to all of my colleagues.
Watch the full video to hear Cheryl’s best tip for new photo managers and more as our audience gets a chance to ask their own questions.