Business Success: Compete with your customers?

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The “democratization of photography” also means that the people who once paid for work by skilled professionals now think they can do it themselves — and thanks to easier and better cameras, often they can indeed produce “good enough” results. What the best strategy now for professional photographers? Top shooter Dave Stock takes stock of the situation. (Sorry Dave, couldn’t resist the awful obvious pun.) Dave’s company, Dallas-Fort Worth-based TeamDSP, serves public and private schools, youth leagues, club teams, and businesses.

dave stock

The Digital Dilemma
By Dave Stock

Digital cameras:  the best thing since sliced bread or a threat to our continued existence?
Ask the question and you get a wide range of answers.  Our potential customers have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the new advances, buying record numbers of cameras and smart phones…
What they are not buying in record numbers are prints and services provided by pro photographers!
Simply put, the new technologies are making it easier for our customers to take and print their own high quality images, reducing the likelihood they will buy from us, the working pros.

Remember when your competition was that relatively small group of names listed under “Photographers” in the Yellow Pages?  I started working professionally back in the early 70’s, almost 20 years before the first digital cameras became available to the public.  My first camera, a Konica Autoreflex, was unique in that it was the first SLR camera with auto-exposure capability.  With any other camera, the user had to rely on feedback from a floating needle at the edge of the viewfinder to arrive at a combination of shutter and lens settings that would produce a well exposed image.  It was left to the photographer to mentally sort through the full range of shutter speed/aperture pairings to select the combination that produced the desired result.  What was most important for each subject, each situation?  A fast shutter speed to freeze the action, or a small aperture to yield sharp focus from near to far?

The limited capabilities of those cameras required the shooter to do all the thinking: there was no on-board computer in a chip to help the process along.  And exposure determination was just the beginning of the challenges.  This was long before Nikon came out with the first autofocus camera in 1983.  Ever tried manually follow-focusing a 600mm f4 lens on a running back hitting the hole?  It’s a special skill that had to be developed over hundreds of hours spent squinting into an eyepiece.  And how about color balance?  To do it right, you needed a pricey color meter and large collection of gel filters, held in place in front of your lens with frames of varying thread diameters.

But even then, these “dumb” cameras lacking electronic brains could produce beautiful images when in the hands of the right operator, which is something that the popular consumer cameras from that era could not do.

If our customers had their own cameras back then, it was likely an Kodak Instamatic 104 or something similar.  These cameras had one f-stop, one shutter speed (1/90th), and produced small 1-inch square images on grainy 126 cartridge films.  Most of the pictures produced by these cameras were poor to abysmal and even the best fell well short of the quality coming out of the cameras used by pros at the time.

The net result is that if you owned pro equipment in the 70s you looked like a pro and your photos were going to be far better than those taken by amateur photographers, simply because of your choice of equipment.

Fast forward to 2012, and consider how technology has radically leveled the playing field.  Can you tell the difference between a Canon 5D and a Digital Rebel from across a room?  How about the difference in sharpness and color accuracy between 8×10 prints coming out of the two cameras?  Probably not.  Simply buying professional equipment no longer guarantees that you can produce significantly better photos than our customers can with their own equipment.  Did you know that highly respected pro shooters are now offering three day workshops aimed at pros and serious amateurs using their iPhones for image capture?  The iPhones of today produce far better images than the $20,000+ Kodak 520 DCS digital camera I leased for $450 a month back in 1999!

The first challenge for us as professional photographers is to acknowledge that this threat is real and it is already affecting our industry.  This problem is not going away.  If anything, it’s going to grow larger as cameras of all types, including smart phones, become more technologically advanced while their prices drop.  Digital printers used by our customers will likely continue to improve as well, making better prints more quickly and more economically.  Faster internet connections will make it easier for our customers to send their own images to labs or share their images with friends and relatives, completely bypassing the need to print the images altogether.  What are the implications for us when our customers save money spent on prints by capturing images on their phones before posting them on Facebook to share with others?  Why buy a 5×7 from us for $5 when they can take their own photo, have Costco make them a 37 cent 5×7, or simply save it in a digital album on their phone or iPad?

So what is the answer?    Many in our field respond by lowering the prices on their order forms.  Others focus on adding a wide range of novelty items to their offerings, highlighting whatever is the newest “hot item” offered by their lab or supplier.  Both of these potential solutions represent serious risks to the bottom line, however.  If you lower prices you must lower costs to preserve your profit margin.  Do you achieve this by paying your workers less or reducing the size of your staff on the shoots?   Do you cut corners back at the office, spending less time preparing and enhancing the images before submitting them to your lab?   Novelty items may sell like crazy, but can leave you with less profit if the parent that budgeted $25 for soccer photos to buy three sheets of prints instead gets a single photo statue after seeing a sample at your photo shoot.  Novelties are great if the parent makes an impulse buy, spending more than they initially planned to spend.  If they buy novelties instead of straight prints, you lose because the standard mark up on portrait units greatly exceeds that of most novelty items (magnets, buttons, trading cards, etc.).

We choose not to lower prices, but to entice our prospective customers by offering them more for their money.  A five-star restaurant can’t compete with McDonald’s prices, but they can offer a better experience.  The highly acclaimed restaurant can’t sell an entrée, side and drink for only five bucks and make a profit.  What they can do is create a superior product combined with exceptional customer service in a pleasant atmosphere that easily justifies menu prices that go well beyond the cost of the raw ingredients used to prepare the meals.  Parents with cameras save tremendously by taking their own pictures and having Walmart make their prints.  The challenge for us is to provide a level of quality, creativity and service that will both justify our higher prices and earn their business.

There’s another element in this dynamic that is hard to quantify, but is very powerful.  For most of us, dining out at an expensive restaurant with a recognized chef is a special event.  If you’re like me, you cringe when you see the tab, but you’re willing to pay the price because of the special feeling you have when you’re being pampered by the restaurant staff and you’re enjoying a meal prepared by a master.  It’s this same feeling of being special that we try to give our customers by always striving to produce not only great images but a great customer experience.

Restaurant owners and photographers share the same goal:  give customers what they want, do it better than anyone else and you have the foundation for a successful business.  As a photographer specializing in youth sports, I need to understand what my customers want and why they sometimes feel that taking their own photos is their best available option.

Who are my customers and what do they want most from me?  My customers include anyone either buying, using or benefitting from my products or services.  Parents want great pictures that bring back special memories.  They don’t want to stand in lines.  They don’t want to call with a question or a problem and get an answering machine.  They don’t want to pay for a poorly lit or sloppily composed photo that they could have taken themselves.

High school coaches don’t care as much about quality as they do about their precious practice time.  They want fast, efficient photo shoots and quick delivery of images and prints to yearbook advisors, printers and parents.  They don’t want to deal with problems of any kind:  collecting late payments, fielding parent’s complaints, tracking down missing packages not picked up by kids on the day the photos were passed out.  Youth league board members want the picture day schedule to run on time so that the game schedules are not disrupted.  And like school coaches, they hate getting phone calls from unhappy parents.  Don’t give parents any excuse to complain about any aspect of picture day.

Yearbook advisors, webmasters and program printers require fast delivery, accuracy, quality and organization.  Make their job easier by getting them what they need quickly.  Organize the images in folders, provide names linked to frame numbers, crop group photos loosely to allow designers maximum flexibility when planning page layouts.

In trying to please our customers, we focus on leveraging our people, experience and resources to outperform our competitors, whether they are professional photographers or our own customers.  As an organization, we are obsessive about  achieving quality in five key areas of our business:

1 – The quality of our products.  Our goal is to produce studio quality on location, indoors or out.  We typically use anywhere from two to four studio flash units modified by umbrellas, soft boxes or beauty dishes for each setup.  All images are brought into Photoshop or Lightroom to be cropped and enhanced (sharpness, exposure, color balance, retouching when requested) prior to being submitted to Richmond Professional Lab for printing.  We frequently use multiple 18×27’ tents, each with four lights, for league shoots so that we can control ambient light and work in adverse weather conditions.

2 – The quality of the experience.  Our expectation is that our customers can quickly and easily navigate through the picture day experience without waiting in long lines, dealing with feelings of frustration or confusion, or ever feeling like we aren’t completely dedicated to the task of getting good photos of everyone posing for our photographers.  Keys to accomplishing this goal include having adequate numbers of experienced workers on the shoots, taking multiple photos of each person posing for photos and using highly efficient work flows that best match each worker’s skills with their assigned tasks.  Photographers shoot anywhere from two to four lines of individuals simultaneously, assisted by a team of posers and assistants recording image numbers.

3 – The quality of our staff.  We hire exceptional people and pay them substantially more than what is considered customary in our industry.  Our team members share a common vision, striving to work together and do whatever is necessary to provide an exceptional customer experience.

4 – The quality of our customer service.  Customer service starts before the job is booked and never ends.  We strive to respond to every email and every phone call within hours of receipt.  We offer a “no-hassle” guarantee if a customer is unhappy for any reason:  we will either reshoot, reprint or refund depending on the nature of the dissatisfaction.  Our goal is to consistently go above and beyond what our customers expect and what most people consider reasonable.

5 – The quality of the opportunity offered our staff.  We treasure our workers and endeavor to provide them with a work environment where they feel appreciated and supported.  Paying them well is only a part of the puzzle.  Maintaining a corporate culture where finger-pointing is forbidden and contributions are acknowledged and rewarded leads to great morale and higher production, not to mention fun times working together as a group to overcome challenges.

Evolving technology requires that we keep on our toes and look for new ways to serve our customers.  While the digital revolution has put more powerful yet affordable cameras in the hands of our customers, it has also given us great tools that professionals can use to create unique products that parents will want to buy.  Greenscreen technology, cameras with HD video capture, Internet storefronts, on-site proofing and printing systems and social media all represent but a few of the many new paths we can pursue to grow our businesses.

Beyond that, not losing sight of the basic values that transcend all technological evolution is essential.  There is no substitute for working hard, working smart, continually striving to improve — and always treating people right.



Focus on: Thomas Mümken, Mümken Sales




This week Elisabeth Scherer reports on a successful young firm in Germany:

In 2011, Thomas Mümken’s new firm became the exclusive distributer for Noritsu’s photochemical and duplex inkjet equipment, and consumables such as paper and ink.

The distribution area for Mümken Sales* now covers 18 countries, including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In the last four years, the company has sold and installed 300 Noritsu duplex inkjet printers and other equipment.

Operators of these devices are almost exclusively stationary photo dealers who produce high-quality prints and value-added products for their regional customers on spot, such as photo books, greeting cards and calendars. Silver halide labs are sold in small numbers only to specific imaging service companies with high volumes, such as school photo labs and specialized photo labs.

Now general manager, Mümken is the former sales director of Noritsu (Deutschland) GmbH. He is assisted in sales and technical support by eight colleagues — all former long-term Noritsu employees as well — in addition to distributors such as Kurt Freund, who is active in Switzerland and Austria.

Since January 2014, the head office of Mümken Sales has been in Hünxe, on the Lower Rhine. The community is conveniently located on the northern edge of the Ruhr area, 50 km from both the Dusseldorf Airport and the Dutch border.

Mümken lives with his wife and three daughters in nearby Oberhausen. He is an enthusiastic  cyclist, and often rides his racing bicycle for the 25 km commute to the company in Hünxe, instead of driving by car. “Consequently, I stay fit for business, and thus easily cope with the daily challenges,” says the confident entrepreneur.

Mümken has been a PMA member for many years, and regularly attends the PMA tradeshows in the US, “because I appreciate the perfect organization of the PMA, and the interesting exchange of ideas with colleagues from industry and commerce from around the world.”

(*Dipl.-Ing. Th. Mümken Sales GmbH, in full)

How to hang ’em…

shutterfly hangs

shutterfly hangsWe’ve all matured past the point of taping prints onto the sheetrock, right? >cough<

And tacks? Please no…

It can be tricky to get your large prints up onto a drywall, let alone concrete or other materials. Shutterfly is offering a thorough overview of how hang a big photo on just about any type of wall.

“Creating a gallery wall is easier than you think,” the company says. “Whether you want to create a family wall or add decorative artwork to your office, our design-a-wall tool will help you do just that. You can hang canvas prints, metal prints, wood wall art and more. This guide will help you hang pictures on any surface: drywall, plaster, brick and concrete.”

The full infographic is here.

(via PetaPixel)


Focus on: Raj Patel


In this week’s “Focus on” column, we invited Raj Patel, from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, to tell his own story.

Raj Patel photo Oct 14I started my career in Nairobi, Kenya, fresh from school,and worked my way up from junior assistant to General Manager of a well-known retailer before leaving to emigrate to the United Kingdom in 1992.

During my 21 years there, I gained invaluable experience of their successful multi-channel business, and the new minilab business in particular, which was especially helpful when I later joined one of the main processing businesses in the U.K. and took over the running of one of their minilab businesses.

However, I had always had the ambition to run my own business, and when the opportunity came along in 1999, I did not hesitate to open my own new minilab business in Welwyn Garden City, with the support and assistance of my wife Urvi who still works alongside me today. I have also benefited both from being a member of PMA and having access to other members and colleagues who can offer advice and support when needed.

So, fifteen years later, despite many changes in our industry, my business continues to provide for me and my family, and by embracing the changes that have come along and by providing our customers with excellent service and quality products, we continue to grow stronger. Long may it continue!

Welcome, new members of PMA and PPFA


We are happy to welcome so many new members to PMA and PPFA!


Avondale Artworks, Inc., Jacksonville, FL,


Coastal Colors LLC, Cape Canaveral, FL,

Cyancolor Com Serv Fotograficos, Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil

Dataline Engineering, Westlake Village, CA,

David Thomas Photgraphy, Bayport, NY,

Fazio Art Custom Frame & Supply, Charlotte, NC,

Grads Photography, Glendale, AZ,

Ivan Kobiolke Photography, Alice Springs, NT, Australia

Khalid’s Studio, Karachi, Pakistan

Lors Photography Inc, Union, NJ,

Mat About You, Ellicott City, MD,

MatShop Art Supply, Saanichton, BC, Canada

Media Meditations, Edmonton, AB, Canada

Miter Tighter Color Glue, Pickerington, OH,

Ramon Davis Photography, Glendale, AZ,

Sami Farag Ltd, Newe Yark, Israel

Studio De Chêne, Baton Rouge, LA,

The Art Factory Framing & Gallery, Marianna, FL,

The Ink Well, Allegany, NY,

Yellow Lab Imaging, Overland Park, KS,


On the PMA Podcast: PMA Official Business Sessions speakers Colby Jubenville and Bill McCurry


PMApodcast_icon_sqColby Jubenville says being unique, agile and fast is paramount to your success in business. The co-author of “Zebras and Cheetahs,” he has suggestions to help you rethink your approach to being unique. This episode of the PMA Podcast features Jubenville on the McCurry Marketing Idea Exchange. Listen and discover that just as every zebra has unique stripe patterns, every successful business can use its strengths and collective passion to be unique. On January 4, 2014, spend some time with both Colby Jubenville and Bill McCurry at the Official Business Session during the PMA 2015 Conferences at Bally’s Las Vegas. Get ready to kick start your business to move at cheetah speed with agility to respond to whatever 2015 holds for your organization.

Forest Service says you can still shoot in the wild


meet-forest-serviceThere’s been a lot of talk online lately about the U.S. Forest Service banning or fining pro photography in the woods.

Just a misunderstanding, the government agency now says.
Nonetheless, it’s also asking you to have your say at its site as it seeks to firm up future policies.

Arizona Highways reports that while shooters were justifiably concerned that the proposed rule change for photography permits in wilderness areas could affect amateur photographers and the general public, “the Forest Service has clarified its stance on the issue. The proposed change would only make permanent a temporary directive that’s been in place for years. And it only applies to commercial shoots, such as movies or TV commercials; it would not affect the vast majority of photographers or other visitors to wilderness areas.”

“If you’re there to gather news or take recreational photographs, no permit would be required. We take your First Amendment rights very seriously,” the agency says in a statement. “Professional and amateur photographers do not need a permit to photograph in wilderness areas unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas that are normally off-limits to the public; or incur additional administrative costs.”

The Forest Service is soliciting public comment on the proposal here.


Stay off those train tracks!



The photo ain’t worth it: Believe it or not, people *die* every year from purposely standing in front of an onrushing train.
…Okay, they were just posing for a photo — on a train track.
On which a train arrived. At full speed.

As The Online Photographer reported earlier this year, “on January 18th, in Auburn, Washington State, a 42-year-old Las Vegas man was struck and killed by an Amtrak Cascades passenger train traveling from Portland to Seattle. What was he doing on the tracks? You guessed it — posing for his girlfriend, who was taking pictures of him.”

• In 2012, TOP reports, a 52-year-old California high school photography teacher was killed on the train tracks. “She was photographing one train approaching her and was struck by another coming the other way. She must have assumed that the horns and ground vibration she heard were coming from the train in front of her, not another one behind her.”

More than 900 people were injured or killed while trespassing on railroad property in the U.S. just last year alone, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics.

Now the Union Pacific Railroad is officially “urging professional photographers to refrain from taking photographs of sports teams, high school seniors, wedding parties and other subjects on or near train tracks or trestles.”

“You never know when a train will come along,” says Union Pacific’s director of public safety, and so “we want to remind photographers that walking on or near railroad tracks is extremely dangerous.”

Want to safely and legally access a site? Look here.

Business success: Why predict failure?

Business Success Logo

Business Success LogoIt’s too easy to be a pessimist. But while pessimists fail, at least they were right about that impending lack of success.

In this week’s Business Success article, Alan C. Fox argues that it’s better to better to overcome your possible pessimism, and succeed in spite of it. Fox is the author of People Tools for Business: 5o Strategies for Building Success, Creating Wealth, and Finding Happines.

Alan C. Fox

Alan C. Fox

I’d Rather Succeed Than Be Right
By Alan C. Fox

“I’d rather be right then be president,” said former US Congressman and Secretary of State Henry Clay, Sr. (1777–1852). And right he was. The senator from Kentucky ran for president three times during his illustrious political career, and lost every time.

Many of us, perhaps most, often predict our own failure.  “I can’t climb that mountain.”  “My speech will be terrible.”  “I don’t suppose you’d like to go out with me.”

Why? Simply because it is much easier to fulfill a prediction of failure than it is to actually succeed.

But wouldn’t you rather predict success ten times, succeed five times, and be “wrong” in half of your predictions than predict failure all ten times and be entirely correct?

I for one would rather succeed.

I’ve used this attitude for most of my career. While I’m not always right, I am always confident.  And I end up succeeding a large percentage of the time.

A Sporting Chance
Heck, the highest major league career batting average of all time belongs to Ty Cobb.  His lifetime batting average was .366 (1905-28).  This means that out of 1,000 at bats, Ty Cobb — one of the best hitters of all time — failed to get a hit 634 times out of every 1,000 attempts.

And Detroit Lions quarterback Bobby Layne is reported to have said, “I’ve never lost a football game:  Sometimes my team was behind when the clock ran out.”

No one wins all the time, but you are far more likely to succeed if you go into your next interview (or deal, hearing, or review) anticipating your success.

Early in my career my business partner Harvey and I negotiated for eighteen months to buy an apartment complex.  Several times I told Harvey to give up, but he persisted.  After a year and a half, the seller finally agreed to accept our offer, and the transaction was later completed.  I must admit I learned something from Harvey: to work hard and expect success.  Harvey’s confidence was never shaken, and he had refused to take “no” for an answer.

In a 2013 Los Angeles Times interview, the great orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache (whose clients include Kobe Bryant, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone) was asked if he ever got nervous. “No,” he said, adding he always feels confident that he can solve any problem that arises.

So rather than go with Henry Clay’s approach, I’d rather follow the Queen’s advice in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

“There’s no use trying,” Alice said.  “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” replied the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

So why not tell yourself that you can do it—that you will succeed, despite the odds or obstacles?

Impossible?  Not at all.  And before breakfast is a good time to be optimistic.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had an impossible dream, and look what he accomplished.
Henry Clay, Sr., on the other hand, ended up being right—he lost all three of his campaigns for president in 1824, 1832, and 1844.
• Alan Fox is the president of ACF Property Management, Inc, and author of The New York Times bestseller People Tools: 54 Strategies for Building Relationships, Creating Joy, and Embracing Prosperity.  Fox is also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Rattle literary magazine, and he sits on the board of directors of several non-profit foundations. Visit

Focus on: Paul Boniface, Scone Digital Imaging

Paul & Margaret Boniface IMG_9528
Paul & Margaret Boniface IMG_9528

Paul and Margaret Boniface

Paul Boniface of Scone Digital Imaging, Scone, Australia, is a very interesting character, born and bred in country New South Wales, in Scone, a town in the Upper Hunter Shire in the Hunter Region of New South Wales, about 4 hours from Sydney. Scone is known as the horse capital of Australia; the regional thoroughbred industry is said to be second only to Kentucky in size and value.

Paul went to Scone Rural School and left when he was sixteen, starting work in a furniture store, installing televisions and laying carpet. It wasn’t long before he joined his Dad, who had a bakery from 1965 and Paul became a baker. The Boniface family delivered bread to houses in three horse drawn bread carts. Paul was driving it himself up until 1983. Proudly displaying the sign ‘Boniface & Son ‘Bonny’ Bread & Cakes,’ they were the last commercial bread carts delivering to households in New South Wales.

In 1992, one of his daughters decided to leave her job in Canberra and come home, so Paul bought two businesses in Scone that had gone broke, a color copy shop and a photo shop. He bought all the equipment and set up a business to work with his daughter — who promptly decided she had made a mistake. That’s how Scone Instant Images began. Paul was running the bakery and the small photo business with one staff member, at a time when they would send photos away to be developed — remember the days when Kodak would pick up the bag and process them and bring them back!

In 1993, he sold the bakery and decided to take a year off and travel overseas. He had a mate who wanted a business but had no money, so Paul went to the bank and worked out a way to have the holiday and his mate take on the business. When he got back from his trip, he was told “you can have it back, mate, it’s too bloody hard!”

He went on from then and built the business up, with a name change to Scone Digital Imaging. In 1997, he moved the shop into an old country store, opposite the Post Office, right in the middle of town — a perfect location. The business has gone through lots of industry changes but churns away, doing as much in-store as possible, large format printing, mugs etc.

Semi-retired, living in a unit overlooking the beach, Paul looks after the Scone business remotely; going in as required for large projects but is happy to leave the day-to-day running to his two staff who manage quite well without him! In fact he has always been able to have time out of the business because he trained his staff to run the business as if it was their own, which gave them confidence and experience. One of his greatest pleasures is the number of people who stop him to say how wonderful his staff are… an acknowledgement that “service beats price every time”.

There is no doubting Paul’s commitment to PMA Australia and PMAI; he attributes his business success and longevity to belonging to an Industry Association and has attended every Australian conference; and gone to the USA Convention for the past 15 years – listening, learning, networking and sharing. It’s where he gets ideas and early knowledge about what’s ahead; so he can do something different and keep moving with the times. Along with Tim Jones, Paul holds the record for attending the most conferences. As part of Kodak he won several trips and also did training courses with them.

He is also still involved with Leading Edge, and was one of the original members of the buying group, and helps out in an advisory capacity.

In 2000 Paul had a heart attack whilst in training for a Hockey Championship, and then was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2005 when he was told to “get his affairs in order”. For a non-smoker, this was a reality check and it is testament to his strength that he got through this period, albeit affected by radiation treatment which leaves him without saliva glands, and more recently with a complete new set of teeth! Definitely the most “sparkling” man in town! He’s okay, he is getting on with life, living for the day and enjoying it to the max. He is good for a laugh!

He has time to run on the beach, help out with photography classes at community events and enjoy his hobby of taking photographs, winning a prize at the 2012 Scone Art Show for a photograph he named “Reflections”. Paul has also been playing Hockey locally for many years, now as a striker, and for the past 12 years has been going away to the Australian Masters Hockey.

Married to Margaret for 15 years, both have blended their families for the complete connection. They have 6 children (4 daughters and 2 sons) and 12 grandchildren. There will be no handing over of the keys to the business to any of them though – they are widespread, independent and happy with what they are doing.

Paul is a “keeper” – a nice guy you would want on your side if you were in trouble, fighting a battle, or simply trying to win a game!

 By Barbara Bryan, PMA Australia