A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our family to a local Fall Festival. What started out as a typical fun day with our family very quickly took shape as a huge lesson for me. As we strolled along with our shaved ice, corndogs and handfuls of tickets for all kinds of rickety carnival rides, I had no idea I was about to see a huge lesson on good business and top-notch customer service unfold right before my eyes. That day, a carnival worker challenged me to be a better photographer.

be a better photographer

His name was Gizmo (or so he said). Gizmo had been charged with the task of running the Flying Buckets ride, and man, was he good at it. While the other carnival workers shuffled their feet and hung their heads in the blistering heat of the mid-day sun (the calendar may say fall, but Mother Nature was not in agreement that day), Gizmo was pumped up. In fact, I can’t say for sure who was having more fun: Gizmo, or the droves of children climbing aboard his ride. As the “buckets” began to fly, Gizmo didn’t sit blankly on a chair like the other workers, waiting for the 90 seconds to finish before unloading his riders. Oh no, Gizmo was running around the ride, cheering the kids on, encouraging them to scream with feigned squeals of terror and challenging each child to scream loader than the last. The kids ate it up like candy.

Out of nowhere, my daughter’s favorite cat ears (which she wears almost daily) came flying off her head, landing behind the ride’s safety gates, and well out of the reach of any carnival visitors. In true dramatic four-year-old fashion, she shrieked in horror, only this time was not a show. Her ears were gone, and the sky truly was caving in. As my husband and I stood there, panicking about how we would ever retrieve the ears and save our day from certain doom, Gizmo shocked us. Without hesitation, he laid on his belly and, in an army crawl-like shuffle, scooted himself under the moving ride and to the cat ears, retrieved them, and then shuffled back to safety.

When he stood in triumph, we cheered and shouted as he gleefully placed the ears onto his own head and broke into a victory dance. He shouted to my now-giddy daughter that he’d saved the day!

YES. Yes, he had.

The ride came to a slow stop, and as my four year-old received back her precious cat ears, my husband hugged Gizmo. He hugged him.

Gizmo did a lot more than stop and start a ride that day.

I was so impressed with his attitude, his positivity, and the way he served us. I walked away not just impressed, but challenged. Gizmo challenged me to be a better photographer. To be a better business person, and to serve my clients and peers better.

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What He Did Well:

Gizmo had a positive attitude even though is work was hard, hot, and not ideal. He had every right to, but he didn’t complain. I get tired during busy season. I get bogged down with other things that compete for my attention, and at times I am tempted to complain. But Gizmo? He found joy in his job even though it was pretty undesirable. Gizmo was joyful and gave 110% while working a job that most of us would never want. Who am I to complain about working my dream job?

He also went above and beyond. Gizmo had no reason to crawl around on the blazing hot asphalt that day to get my daughters headband. But he did it anyway. He made her day, and ours, because he cared enough to go the extra mile. The way Gizmo served us that day left a huge impression on me. I always want my clients to walk away knowing I gave everything I had to them.

He gave an experience, not just another ride. Carnivals are fun. You expect that when you pay money for a bunch of tickets, your kids are going to have a great time. But what we didn’t expect was for them to have a whole experience that kept them coming back for more and more. Did I mention that the only ride they wanted to ride the rest of the day was Gizmo’s Flying Buckets? There were a lot of rides available to my children that day. But they chose to keep coming back to the one that gave them the best experience. This sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? There are lots of great photographers. But clients will talk about and return to the photographer who gives them a great experience.

The Results:

My kids talked about riding that ride all day. My daughter told everyone about the ride and how Gizmo made them laugh and saved her ears. The kids told anyone who would listen. And they weren’t the only ones. Over the rest of the weekend, we all found ourselves talking about Gizmo and the impression he had left on us that day.

What if we as photographers left that sort of impression on people? Sure, running your own business is challenging. But what if we chose to stop complaining, and instead chose to find JOY in what we get to do every day? What if we served our clients so well that they talked about it long after their session was over? An experience so great that they couldn’t help but rave about us to everyone in their path?

I don’t know about you, but Gizmo certainly challenged me. He made me want to be a better photographer. And this time, “better” has nothing to do with the photos I take.

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