Photo (Missed) Opportunity

My wife Linda and I were in Portland, Oregon for a few days last month. Great town, nice people.

We heard about the Portland Saturday Market (“the largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in the nation”) and decided to check it out.

It was terrific. Booth after booth of crafts, food, jewelry, clothing, sculptures and more. That’s where I took this picture.

It cost me a dollar.

Here’s what happened…

One of the booths consisted entirely of birdfeeders made from dishes (yes, it appears that someone has finally found a practical use for wedding china).

Really interesting stuff and so I took out my phone and snapped this photo.

That’s when I noticed a woman standing behind the cash register in the corner of the booth, giving me the hairy eyeball.

She pointed to a little sign indicating that in order to take a photo, you needed to leave a tip.

So I gave her a dollar. (I considered telling her that I charge two dollars for anyone to look at me, but decided that would be unkind.)

But I can understand her motivation. After all, people come by, weekend after weekend, stare at the unusual birdfeeders and take a picture. Most of them (by far) buy nothing.

So why not charge these people? You know, make a little cash on the side in addition to selling birdfeeders.

It’s her booth, she sets the rules. But from a business perspective, it may be the single worst marketing idea I’ve ever come across.

The problem is that …

… instead of increasing engagement with her and her product, she’s decreasing it.

… instead of encouraging word of mouth by suggesting that I take a picture, share it with my friends and talk about her, she’s discouraging it.

… instead of building goodwill by turning curious strangers into friends, she’s building a wall and charging admission.

If "penny wise and pound foolish" had a mascot, it would be that booth.

So here’s my homework assignment for you: Take a look at your business and make sure it’s set up in such a way that you give away lots of free (and valuable) things.

Information, advice, encouragement, samples, friendly handshakes, whatever.

Focus today and forever on drawing people into your "store" and increasing the size of your fan base.

Remember, today’s picture-takers are tomorrows buyers.

P.S. Follow this link to register for my Tactical And Practical Solo Professional Breakthrough Year, launching Thursday, October 11th. (Warning: If you click the link to read about the program, you owe me a dollar.)


25 thoughts on “Photo (Missed) Opportunity

  1. Bruce Horwitz

    Given the outdoor nature of the market, about the only thing she could do is give you the hairy eyeball. Public space is public space. Also, it’s an oxymoron to call it a required tip… but I’m guessing she already knows about it being a public space, where she can’t charge you for taking pictures.

  2. Laura Foley

    I saw an instance of this earlier this month at the Worcester, MA, stART in the Street festival. Strangely, it was a similar product. Maybe all those transform-recyclables-into-usable-art went to the same marketing class. Anyway, it was weird and off-putting.

    Next month I will be delivering a 60-minute lecture and the client asked if they could make a video of it. My first reaction was something along the lines of, “What, are you crazy? This is how I make a living!” Then I remembered the marketing tactics of a little band you may have heard of, the Grateful Dead, who built a huge following due in part to their policy of allowing fans to record concerts and do anything they wanted with the recordings. Heck, they even had special areas at their concerts reserved for people to set up their equipment!

    This client is providing me with a copy of the video, to do with as I choose. Right on!

    1. Jenn

      I have to wonder if the desire for a tip comes from the fear that someone will steal her design. This is a BIG DEAL for some artists and has caused its fair share of drama in the community (AKA

      The problem is EXACTLY what you noted. Similar products happen. All the time. People with the same tastes in art + the same skills = very similar crafting results. AND too many people focus on protecting their designs rather than making themselves stand out.

      When I sell my dragon sculptures at fairs I encourage photography but ask that they try and remember to link to me when they put the pictures online. This usually gets them to grab my business card.

      1. Michael Katz Post author

        Great points, and I agree it can be a blurry line when it comes differentiating between promotion and inappropriate use. Given that my birdfeeder friend was allowing photos, but for a fee, it’s hard to imagine her objection was other people stealing the work.

        But it reminds me of the Napster music controversy back in the day. The established bands like Metallica hated it. The up and coming bands viewed all the sharing as more visibility.

  3. Sue Carroll

    As you can probably tell from my email and web address, I sell dog treats. I have several venues but one of them is local farmers’ markets. Every dog that visits my table at the market gets a free treat, if they are extremely cute or know some tricks they usually score a couple more treats. I’ve even had a few biscuit lifters (similar to shop lifters but with four legs and they seem to have an affinity for dog treats) get away with a few more. I gladly send home free treats to people that say their dogs are picky, have certain health issues, etc. if they find out their dog likes them and they work for their dog I usually have a faithful customer. The only bad part about this policy is the moochers (not dog moochers…. people moochers) who see the single treats, ask if they are samples and then take 5 while telling me they have 5 dogs at home. Or stop by the booth and never buy just take free treats home every week. C’mon, I have to feed my dog too (not to mention my cat, turtles and husband), please don’t take advantage of my kind soul! I gladly give free treats to the dogs that visit every week because after a week or two they start dragging their owners to my table and it usually results in sales. I don’t charge for pictures but it does make me uneasy when people take a picture and inform me that they want to start making dog treats too. I know that is supposed to be some sort of flattery that they want to copy my product but get your own gig. It’s a dog treat table, no cats allowed and that includes copy cats!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Sue! I know, there are always people who will take advantage. Like you, I tend to err towards making things as easy and pleasant as possible for the (vast) majority of people who don’t take advantage.

      And if you don’t like copy cats, you won’t like this business that I launched recently with my son, Evan: (dogs welcome!)

      1. Sue Carroll

        Hi Michael,

        I do like Love the name! Just signed up for the newsletter. I hope it is as good as the Blue Penguin Newsletter (which I might mention is the only one I get that I consistently can’t wait to read)!

        1. Michael Katz Post author

          Thanks. Great to have you aboard. Evan’s a much better writer than I was at that age (maybe even now) so you’ll soon be abandoning me for him, I’m sure!

    1. Sue Carroll


      That has happened more than once to me. Luckily my recipe is not something you can duplicate at home. You need a heavy duty mixer or you will burn out your motor. But some of my ideas could be duplicated. Usually once I tell them about having to submit everything to the Department of Agriculture, who of course wants money for every flavor you produce, they usually realize it isn’t a get rich quick type of business. In fact, you have to love dogs and what you do because getting rich is not really part of the deal.:)

      1. Michael Katz Post author

        Hey Sue, I just went to your web site. Are you sure humans can’t eat those?! Those bone -shaped treats look great. (Maybe it just means I should go home for lunch now…)

        1. Sue Carroll

          Michael, you must be talking about the bone-oli’s. I’m told they are delicious but I have not tried them myself. You probably should get on with lunch if you are wanting dog treats! I have to say I put my fancy treats on a pie stand and I once had three ladies run across the street with great excitement to purchase a “pastry”. Once they realized they had expended all that energy for a dog treat, we all had a good laugh and I pointed out a fellow vendor that could take care of their sweet tooth.

          Have a great lunch and thanks for the newsletters!

  4. Helen Graves

    Hi, Michael,

    The photo caught my eye in particular because that blue/brown flower was the very pattern of my mom’s “every day” dishes when I was a kid (lo, these many years ago). I’d totally forgotten about it, so it was good to take a brief walk down Memory Lane.

    I am in complete agreement with today’s article. I used to teach marketing to marketing-reluctant service-based entrepreneurs and have long been a proponent of the “free giveaway.”

    Since my current bailiwick is providing practical tools for letting go of limiting beliefs and tapping into the power of your thought, I don’t have a “hard product” like birdbaths or dog treats. By way of turning strangers (aka web visitors) into friends, I give away both my Happiness Manifesto and the Spiritual Adventurer’s Success Pac.

    Thanks, Michael, for your always-refreshing take on moving forward with business.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My pleasure, Helen. Glad you got that memory lane walk! On a similar note, I was at a diner recently and the counter top was the same pattern as my childhood friend Matt had in his kitchen. Came right back to me – funny how that stuff sticks with us.

      And I like your free giveaway ideas (I like the video on your home page too!).

  5. Steve VanHove

    Great story, Michael. Love “hairy eyeball,” sounds like Arlo Guthrie on the group W bench in Alice’s Restaurant (“…and all kinds of mean, nasty and ugly things”)!

    Anyway this is a good reminder for me to get something on my website to invite inquiries for free no-obligation advice about my expertise to anyone who needs it.

    Btw, I would definitely give two bucks to look at you. 😉

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Steve! I actually had to look up “hairy eyeball” before I published to make sure it wasn’t just some odd, Katz-family term that I picked up along the way. Apparently quite the history!

      And yes, something(s) on your web site, as giveaways when you meet with a prospect, give a group presentation, meet someone interesting, etc. All useful and help to establish you as likeable expert!

      (And I’m pretty sure I’d owe you change on that two dollars, but thank you.)

  6. Ellen Finkelstein

    Actually, the tip request is unusual. I was at an arts and crafts fair in Ft. Lauderdale last winter and there’s a fair-wide prohibition on taking photos. I asked one of the artists and she said that people come, take photos, and then copy the art or the ideas.

    But some artists sell postcards of their work for around $1 and then you feel like you’re getting something. Jenn’s idea of encouraging photos and asking for a link is a great idea.

    I try to regularly give away new treats. Each one is a bit of a project — create the download, create an opt-in page, create a download page, create a new webform, etc. (If anyone has an easier method, let me know!) But each one gets me more subscribers.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Ellen!
      Yes, there’s definitely some work to setting up the free giveaway thing. Although i find it’s mostly a front-loaded process, and that once you set it up, it runs on auto pilot.

      So, for example, I give away a digital copy of my most recent book here, when you subscribe to the newsletter: But i don’t have to change that (until the book is no longer appropriate for whatever reason). Since I’m assuming your new subsribers are always “new” to your site as well – and provide the content you offer is not dated quickly – that should probably work for you too.

      And yes, I find the giveaway does help with new subscribers!

      1. Ellen Finkelstein

        I regularly offer new downloads in addition to my main one, which is pretty timeless. It gives me the opportunity to announce something new in various places and you never know when one thing will attract someone. So 2 of my sites have 3 or more downloads, although only one is really public. The others are just for me to announce whenever I want to add to my list. I find this very useful, but maybe other people don’t do it. When I was trying out MailChimp, I discovered it was almost impossible without being a programmer, but my current email service (MadMimi) makes it pretty easy.

  7. Bruce Horwitz

    “she said that people come, take photos, and then copy the art or the ideas.”

    Geesh. This sounds like pure speculation and paranoia, although I’ve never been on the selling side at a crafts fair. How in the world does she (the artist/craftsperson) know that the photographer copies the art/ideas – has someone who took a picture ever showed up in the next fair?

    And if her art/craft is so easily copied then you probably don’t need a photograph. Next they’ll say you can’t carry a pencil and pad of paper?

    As Michael wrote long ago… don’t be afraid of giving away information in your newsletter. Your readers aren’t going fire you and start doing whatever you do. I believe he used the example of a local pizza shop printing their dough/sauce recipes. You might try, once, to make the pizza at home but you’ll still buy most your pizza at the shop.

      1. Bruce Horwitz

        Sure (nice research)… I’m sure the last 7 didn’t need a photograph from someone else’s booth to get into the business, which makes me wonder about these artists/craftspeople who don’t want you to take pictures of their work.

        Actually, I help small companies decide what to file patent applications on… and I often see the same mentality of over-valuing the uniqueness of their product/technology.

        And, of course, Michael’s original post was about being asked for a “tip” to take the picture…not being stopped from taking it…and what an “anti-marketing” idea it was.

  8. Catharine Inniss

    You really do crack me up. Two dollars for looking at you…now I really think $5.00 would be a bargain 😉

    We provide Opinions of Value on occasion, at no charge. Depends on how nice they are on the phone…



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