Top 10 Skills to Master for a Successful Photography Business: Part One
OK, that should be Happy New Year, but I think we’re all happy if our business is doing well. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to start blogging regularly, so here it goes… I’m going to try to do a post a week. If I slack off, feel free to let me know.
Since we’re in the New Year mood, I thought I’d talk about a few things we all need to do if we want our businesses to thrive, New Year or not. We often see lists of steps we must take or things we must do to improve our business or our craft. We all know there’s always something to do and we can never get it all done, but somehow, we stay afloat and life goes on. I’ve been photographing weddings, portraits and commercial assignments for over 25 years now. The last 11 have been our best. That’s when my wife, Mirta, joined Barnet Photography. No coincidence there, as all our friends well know. I’m not ashamed to admit that if it wasn’t for Mirta, we wouldn’t be where we are today… Yes, I’m a lucky man!
[These images have little to do with the premise of this post, other than to illustrate the need for great samples so perspective clients are compelled to call you. This is Kim, one of our models at last year’s Recharge at Rancho Workshop.]
So, after going over our journey, our good ideas and our mistakes, the advice we got from our friends along the way and what we learned from photographers we respect, I came up with 10 skills I believe we have to master if we want to have a successful wedding photography business… In any economy. This is not a complete list, I’m sure there are many other things we need to take into consideration, but in my opinion, without these 10 basic building blocks, you can’t be successful in our chosen profession…
These are things we need to work on daily. And that’s the key, you have to work on them. I see photographers work very hard and not do well financially. These are often very talented artists who deliver a great product to their clients but can’t reach the clients they really want, charge too little for their services, and don’t get to keep much after expenses. To say nothing about the long hours. Most of us work very hard on our business, mostly because we love what we do, but are we spending all that time and energy on the right things? How do we know what will work? When to do what…?
In order not to bore you to death and to give you time to digest my “building blocks” (for lack of a better name), I’m going to go over the first one in this post and follow up with one or two more every week. I would love some feed back along the way… And by the way, I’ll only be telling you what Mirta and I have done to make 2012 our best year ever, by far! Many of our peers tell me I shouldn’t give up too much information… “Don’t empower the competition” they say… Well, I beg to differ. The more we help the “competition”, the better off we all are. If we help a “shoot and burner” get $1500 for a wedding instead of $900 aren’t we now closer in price? We don’t want to have to charge less to stay in business, we have to help inexpensive photographers raise their fees so that they’re able to deliver a superior product and a great customer experience. Cheaper is never the best value. We all want clients that recognize that.
Number 1: Have a plan… I told you, there are no secrets here… It’s how you do it, and stick to the plan that counts. In my opinion, a business plan is nothing more than a list of realistic goals with a time frame and steps you’re going to take to make your goals a reality. You have to sit down with a pen and a large pad of paper and write up a plan. No distractions, no hurry. How much time do you spend looking at gear online, or on Facebook? This is more important! If you have a partner, you must do this together. If you have a significant other who is not involved in the business, you should involve him or her in your business plan. It may be that the time and resources you’re planning to dedicate to your business could be a strain on your family relationships, or, on the other hand, creating a business plan may be just the thing to enlist your spouses support of your photography business. There are many ways to write this up. Here are the things I feel are most important:
What do you want your photography business to do? Weddings? Weddings and portraits? Babies? Write it all down. What percentage of your time and resources will you dedicate to attracting each kind of business? What kind of market (customers) do you want to reach? What needs to happen for these goals to be met? Training, business education, time set aside to work on marketing, research, investment in samples (if you don’t show it, you won’t sell it). Where are you going to meet with your clients? Will you need extra photo gear? Notice the most fun (photo gear) is the least important. You should also consider how you’re planning to pay for all this. Maybe you still have a regular job. How about medical insurance? Liability insurance, transportation costs… How much money do you need to make? You get the idea. After a few hours working on this document, your “Declaration of Independence”, put it aside, sleep on it, add more to it in the next few days. But you do have to finish it.
Your business plan should cover more than the near future. Be very specific, especially about the things you want to accomplish in the first year. How many weddings do you think you want to photograph, for instance? How will you structure your price list? Where do you want to be at the end of the first year? Second year? A plan for two to five years is a good start… And of course, you’ll be revisiting your plan and making corrections on a regular basis, maybe twice a year…
If you don’t feel you’re ready to write up a formal business plan, at the very least write down a list of goals… For example: You want to be in the preferred vendor list at the local Golf Club, You want to develop a social media schedule, need to create sample albums, take a workshop, and so on. Then give yourself a deadline for each goal. That’s a good start. Once you put your plan on paper, you’ll be surprised how that act alone will boost your motivation to implement it!
Here’s a place I found online with resources and ideas to help you get inspired: http://sbinformation.about.com/od/bizplansamples/Business_Plan_Samples.htm. Complicated (and costly) template driven business plan solutions are fine for businesses in need of money; they’re geared to persuade lending institutions and investors to provide business financing. These would be more than you need, but you can get good ideas about what to include, competitor research, etc. You can find many similar resources on line to get you inspired. It’s more important to create a simple plan that works for you now.
I can’t stress enough the importance of having a business plan, a road map for your business. A way to gage your progress and keep you focused on what you need to do. Not having one is like driving your car to a building that you’ll recognize when you see it, but without the address… You have to know where you’re going and what it will take to get there. The “unknowns” often reveal themselves when you write down what you want to accomplish.
[This is Casey, another one of our models at last year’s Recharge at Rancho Portfolio Building Workshop at beautiful Rancho Las Lomas. We’ll be doing it again this year on Memorial Day. Registration opens soon.]
As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated!
Next week: Selling yourself and your product… We’re running a business here… Right!?