Mike James was a pro in high-end photography - who hated taking pictures. Then something happened that made him wish he’d taken more of them. Adopting the smartphone as his tool of choice, he discovered a passion that he had to share.
With an eager audience and the right platform, Mike has turned smartphone photography into an alternate source of income, as well as a pastime he loves. Hear his story in this case study episode.
02:40 – From hard work to passion. Hear how Mike got over his dislike for taking pictures.
06:21 – Where it’s all about the intent. Why are you taking that photo?
11:18 – Pros and cons of in-person workshops. It’s high-converting and you learn a lot, but…
13:51 – The initial nightmare of having a website. WordPress and plugins and bloat – can you relate?
15:54 – What started with a Facebook group. From communing on FB to owning the racecourse.
18:10 – Where has this platform been all this time? This is what completely changed the game for Mike.
22:19 – Weaning your people off of Facebook. They won’t like it, at first.
25:02 – The support that is something else. Mike and James have seen nothing else like it.
28:53 – A fun thing that actually pays. You CAN make money doing something you love.
32:40 – If you want more of Mike… Interested in what Mike offers?
34:20 – One thing that will improve your pictures. Take better shots immediately.
From hard work to passion
James’s guest for today worked in photography for 20 years, at the end of which he really hated taking pictures.
Mike James is a technical photographer, used to working with the best and latest in equipment. His knowledge of high-end photography is in-depth. But there was a time when pulling out the DSLR and the oversized lens had become a chore, and outside of work he simply stopped taking pictures.
Then Mike’s mom passed away. And Mike was shocked and saddened to find he had only six photographs of her from the nine years since his eldest was born. Taking photos had felt like work, and so he hadn’t made the effort. He decided he needed to get back into photography. But this time he rejected the “good” equipment in favor of the tool everyone has in their pocket – the smartphone. Years later, he makes a decent side income teaching people to take good pictures with their phones.
James hears him. He’d gone through a DSLR phase himself, which can indeed, he says, interfere with simply enjoying the moment. And as a parent with young kids, he’d spent a lot of time viewing them through a lens or a side screen on a video camera, instead of just watching them.
James has tons of footage of his daughter now, but he’s long since ditched the DSLR. What you can do in the portrait mode of a modern iPhone, he says, is off the charts. People sometimes ask him what he used to capture a picture.
“Some people suffer this disease called perfectionism.”
Some people, he says, suffer this disease called perfectionism. They need everything to be on point – aperture, focus, luminosity. He’s making up terms, but the point is you can focus on details and miss the whole point.
Where it’s all about the intent
Mike agrees. He used to have an extreme prejudice against the smartphone, and when he let go of that, it was freeing. Without thinking of the technical, he could focus on photo intention and composition. And it doesn’t matter what device you have, he says, whether it’s an iPhone, Android, tablet, iPad, whatever it is, as long as you ask, okay, what’s motivating me to take this photo?
It’s the same as creating any type of content. Why are you doing it? What do you hope to deliver? And for Mike, as a side business, it also has to be fun. Otherwise, it will be a struggle.
James is big on resource allocation. Work less, make more. You can easily score your effective hourly rate versus what you’re doing as a profession. James matched his EHR from his job fairly early, and once his total revenue caught up he was out of there.
He’d like to hear more about the intent of a photo.
It’s the stimulus, says Mike, your “why”. And it’s the biggest difference between just a snapshot and a strategically set-up, purposeful photo.
If you’re just taking a snapshot, you’ll likely take it from eye-level, which is how we generally experience life, and which is boring. But if you say, for instance, I’m photographing this bike to capture the feeling of riding in this beautiful autumn weather, you may want to shoot from a lower angle, and consider the background elements, like the trees, in the frame.
When you have that intention, or even if it’s for your Instagram account, you have a call to action, you instantly improve your photos intuitively without understanding composition, rule of thirds, and all that technical stuff.
Pros and cons of in-person workshops
After shedding his ideas of what photography involved, Mike set out to teach what he’d learned. He started out with workshops, taking a minimum viable product approach. Back then, this meant teaching in person.
“In-person is a high-conversion medium.”
In-person is a high-conversion medium, says James. You learn a lot, and you can get good leverage to start with, but it can also be geographically difficult. And there’s costs and organizing and stress. James knows from when he ran a live event every year.
So Mike decided to take it online. But he agrees, you do learn a lot, even on a small scale, say half a dozen participants. He first started out, for example, prepared to teach for iPhone, and people turned up with Androids.
The initial nightmare of having a website
When Mike became restricted to a geographic location, he did what most people did – got a website. A friend of a friend helped him, and it worked out. But the business has since changed. He has courses and webinars, and the thing became, says Mike, absolutely bloated. All these plugins to make things talk to each other. And while he loves his side business, he enjoys his full time job and has no intent of leaving it. So he doesn’t want to be bogged down by a website.
All of Mike’s cash flow went to a developer, and at the end of it, he says, he had the website – fantastic. But where was everyone?
What started with a Facebook group
Back then Mike had the hustler mentality – he was working hard on his job and on building his side gig. But it was a distraction from what his customers really wanted, which was content, free content, paid content.
Mike started a Facebook group that became very popular. He kept the community going through a seven-month overseas stint, and loved it. He realized that was the part of the business he loved, the community, talking to his customers after they’d purchased his course, and continuing with their transformation and their journey.
Then late last year, Facebook turned notifications from all notifications to highlight. Mike’s organic traffic plummeted. He decided then to take a page out of James’s book and own the racecourse.
It’s just so common, says James. Photography is a benign industry, not the type that usually gets slapped. Yet Mike got decked by the algorithm. The way that it functions is beyond your control. One of the great things when you have control of your assets is you can decide how you want the game to be played.
Mike had a course at one point on Teachable, too, which was easy to use. But he didn’t own it, and he wanted to have total control.
Where has this platform been all this time?
Mike began looking for the ideal platform, one that would do everything for him. He fully expected it to be out of his budget, but he had to see what was there. Narrowing down a long list, he came across 10XPRO. It was the solution, he said, that he should have been on years ago.
Mike made a list of his platform requirements. Community was one, and being able to integrate with his email system, ActiveCampaign. That’s one of the things he loves about 10XPRO, that you can tag just about anything. It takes all the complexity out of cart abandonment and site visits. He now also has segmentation with his list, which is so simple.
Now, Facebook is simple, says Mike. But a lot of people there are just scrolling and interacting, not real quality customers.
And there are catfights, says James. People being hostile, occasionally, debating things. In one of the surfing groups he’s in, you’ll see flare ups over whether or not you should put a tail pad on your fish surfboard.
“What kind of engagement matters? “
Then, too, when people switch to a forum setting, they worry that engagement isn’t as high as on Facebook. To which James’s question is always, what kind of engagement matters? If someone engages in a success thread, or a challenge thread, or a journal thread, once a day, that’s got to be worth 100 likes on some post about your favorite aperture.
Weaning your people off of Facebook
People say it’s hard to move people off Facebook to another platform. Did Mike experience that?
Absolutely, he says. And he did lose a lot of people. He’s felt like he had to start again, which was a bit of a downer. But now he loves the process. The people in his membership have to log into their account. So they have the intention. The people in there want to be there. And when he releases a new product, and talks about it there, they’re interested. They are his ideal clients.
Does Mike use the push notifications when he upgrades something?
He’s only just discovered it.
It’s so good, the booster, says James. You can tell people you’ve loaded new training, and they come running. The other thing he’d recommend is the app. It gets people closer to the membership, and gets rid of the friction of logging in. He uses it on SuperFastResults.
Mike loves, too, how you can personalize everything, and the templates available. He was so glad to stop using WordPress and all its plugins. Within 10XPRO, the thank you page and the checkout act like any normal page. It’s the same navigation, so the learning curve wasn’t as steep as he feared.
The support that is something else
Did Mike get support through his migration?
It was like nothing he’d experienced, he says. He had answers straight away, chatting with his page open. It was amazing to have someone answer your specific question right there and then. The most he’s had to wait is a few hours for them to get back to him.
It’s one of the main reasons James partnered with John Lint. They share the same values around the level of support that should be available for people using your product.
John’s got a team of developers. He’s got a team of support assistants, and they’re all over it. Anytime James has asked for something or queried something, it’s been fixed within 15 minutes, or by the next day, if it’s a feature.
A fun thing that actually pays
So what do things look like for Mike, on a sort of regular scheduled basis? This is, after all, his fun thing to do that pays. It pays for family holidays, or some living costs, or the like. It’s a decent earner for a hobby.
Mike goes live on YouTube every day, trying to build that branding. He’s in the forum every day, sharing tips every day. And when you deliver training, he says, it helps you learn as well. He’s learning as he does it, and he breaks it all down and shares it. So he’s also creating content every day. He does a blog once a week. And one of the things he loves is it’s so easy in 10XPRO. There’s a blog template, just go in there.
James asked for that feature, he says. It’s great Mike is blogging regularly and building the asset.
Yeah, says Mike, and the blog is the SEO that brings in remote learning or remote teams. It’s brought in a lot of clients, not all photo enthusiasts, but good for the cash flow.
He also loves developing courses. He spent two years studying training design and assessment, just to make himself stand out from other photographers delivering training. So he loves training and creating courses.
If you want more of Mike…
Something that comes clearly through to James is that Mike is a good person. That comes through. His intent for his audience is for them to have those pictures of their loved ones, and to be able to make them amazing.
So where can people get into his community, join his programs, buy his courses?
The website, says Mike, is smartphonephotography.club. The landing page explains what you get in the membership. You get all the links to his podcast, YouTube, it’s all there. All his freebies, his free course, PDFs – it’s like a central repository for everything stored in the one location.
It’s a free membership. You can access the forum, and upon logging in, it then has the recommended and paid courses at the bottom. Mike likes the subtle selling that isn’t forever in your face.
One thing that will improve your pictures
Perfect, says James. Now, he has an iPhone in his pocket. What could he implement today to take a better picture than he could before he spoke to Mike?
Intention, says Mike.
That’s definitely it for James. That and trying different angles. It’s so rewarding doing a podcast, he says, because he learns from every guest. He appreciates what Mike’s doing for everyone with a smartphone who wants to take good pictures.
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