While a lab may not have a physical presence in your business like your second shooter (or your dog) does, you should think of your lab as your partner. Think about it: the lab is responsible for delivering the final product of all of your hard work (and you depend on that lab to deliver something that surpasses your clients’ expectations), yet you likely have little to no relationship with them.
Vinee McCracken hopes to change that. He’s no stranger to the professional printing world: his experience at Miller’s gives him a unique perspective on the photographer-lab relationship. From his early days of packaging orders to his current role in copywriting, Vinee strives to find inventive and unique ways to better serve photographers. He firmly believes that the lab makes a huge impact on a photography business’s success, so we asked him for his top tips for selecting a professional printer (and knowing when it’s time to move on from the one you’ve got).
Do Your Research
In this day and age, you have more information available to you than ever before. Join photography groups and forums, ask fellow photographers for recommendations, and narrow down a list of companies that you would like to explore. Pore over their websites: do they offer innovative products? Do they have options for customization or personalization? Will they meet the needs of the different types of photography you shoot? What special perks do they offer– Free shipping? Gorgeous boutique packaging? Quick turnaround time? Create a list of pros and cons so you can narrow down the options.
Test The Quality
The great thing about most pro labs is that you can get an idea of their quality without spending a dime (Miller’s offers free 8×10 test prints just for creating an account!). This means you can hold a product in your hands and truly examine it the way a client would.
Work your way down your list of potential partners, order test prints of the same file from each lab, and when they arrive, compare quality and color. How closely do the prints match what you saw on-screen? Your final product will be hanging in clients’ homes for years – make sure you are providing a product that your business can stand behind.
Establish a Relationship
This is possibly the most important piece of the photographer-lab partnership, yet it’s often the most overlooked. It’s inevitable that sooner or later, you will end up in a bind with a customer. How will the lab respond when you have a question or a complaint? What’s their customer service like? Will they support you as a partner and treat you respectfully?
During your selection process, come up with a question for each company. Whether it’s something related to ordering, details about turnaround time, or even a product-based question, email the lab and ask. Make sure that your potential partner can respond in a friendly and timely manner. Give companies that take a week to respond or who can’t give you a reasonable answer the boot.
Reliable Turnaround = Stress Relief
You know what isn’t fun? Having no idea when your products will arrive. Check out the turnaround times and shipping methods offered through the different labs. Some products will take longer than others, but you want to choose a lab that you can rely on. It will take time before you know what you can realistically expect from your lab, but set the bar high. Knowing that you can depend on them to get a product out the door quickly when you’re in a bind means you always have someone who’s got your back in the business.
Product Offering and Pricing
When it comes down to the nitty gritty, most labs offer a pretty similar product catalog. If there are certain products (like albums) that are especially important to you, dive back into your research and find what fits your style and budget. Keep in mind most labs provide a special discount for studio samples, so don’t be afraid to ask if they’re offered. Many photographers work with multiple vendors for multiple products, but your workflow will be much simpler if you can narrow it down to as few as possible.
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