Business Isn't Sexy - 5 Tips to Help You Get Through The Sometimes Passionless Process of Running a Photography Business
Setting up some new custom lights after you’ve just hit Adorama hard on a new lighting setup? Or being glued to your laptop for hours while you debate whether that $7 bottle of water at the airport can be considered a business expense? I know which one I'd rather be doing. A day in the life in the business of photography.
The cold reality is that you can’t have one without the other. Photography businesses of any kind; headshot photographer, wedding photographer, product photographer, we have to do the boring stuff in order to enjoy the fun stuff and be a successful photography business.
I’m not being 100% truthful here. I enjoy the “boring” stuff. Not the being glued to the laptop part, but the business part. It fascinates me, if I’m being brutally honest, even more than being a photographer does. So I put a lot of my time into the business side of my headshot photography studio. I'm not perfect at it, but the time I put in pays off.
Below are my top 5 tips to get you through the grind of the boring business of photography, and get you back to being a photographer and creating awesome images!
1. Have a Plan
Not even a business plan as such, although having a business plan is never a bad idea when starting a photography business. But what I mean here is a plan, or a vision of what you want your business to be, and actionable steps to get you there, and be ready to start.
I’ll give you an example. I opened my Headshot Photography Studio in Scottsdale, AZ in late 2016. My goal was to be the No.1 Headshot Photographer in the southwest of the United States within 3 years. I had some work to do, so I needed a plan.
First I identified who my ideal client was. Corporate professionals between the age of 35-55. Headshots are huge in the corporate world. 35 to 55 is the period in Corporate America when people are making their biggest moves, so a strong headshot is invaluable to this group. They have the ambition and resources to pay more for an exceptional product.
Second, develop that exceptional product. The “product” in a photography business takes time to develop, so I worked on my technique and headshot portfolio like crazy, and slowly it came together. I'm confident my “product” or corporate headshots are some of the best my clients will find. Then I built my website and marketing materials to cater to my ideal client.
Third, surprise them with an amazing experience. Experience is everything. My clients come to their session expecting an experience second only to a root canal dentist appointment. I’ve lost count of the times a client leaves my studio and says “I was dreading this and it was actually fun.” That’s not an accident.
My clients post about their headshots on social media, they tell their friends and colleagues, and they write Google Business Reviews, which is so important to any photographer or photography business.
2. Understand That You’re “In Sales”
Hands up who is “in sales?” Whether we’re talking about the business of photography or the automotive business, we’re all “in sales.” Do you know a single successful business that has zero sales? Hypothetically everything is a sale. You’re consciously or subconsciously selling the benefits of being in a business relationship with you. The importance lies in being intentional with your sales process.
People have a negative connotation to selling, which I can understand if you’re selling a product or service that you don’t believe in. Somebody once told me that the word “Sales” comes from a Norwegian word which means “to serve”. I don’t even know whether that’s true, but ever since I was told that, I’ve always thought of that meaning and made it literal.
If my clients aren’t happy with what they buy from my business, they are not coming back, and they’re not giving me referrals or 5-star reviews. It’s important to me as a photographer and as a photography business, that my clients feel as happy, or “served” as I am with a transaction.
3. Surround Yourself with the Right People
Is this business advice? Or life advice? Probably both. A big part of my decision making includes the type of people I surround myself with.
There’s not a single person I speak to on a daily basis who doesn't have a positive outlook. Work colleagues, business partners, even friends. It’s important for me to be around people who share the same forward-thinking mentality. I don’t mean to sound all hippy-ish about this, but it’s important.
Sure, we all have bad days, even bad periods of time. There are plenty of valid reasons, even medical reasons why somebody might feel “down.” I don’t mean these people.
You know the people I'm talking about. They complain constantly. They gossip about other people and see the negative in everything.
I avoid those people like the plague.
4. Don’t Forget Your “Other” Business
At any one time, I believe we are running two businesses. The business you are, and the business you’re becoming. The photography business you are today and the one you will be in 12-24 months are probably two different things, at least I believe they should be. Plan ahead. I’m constantly asking myself “what do my clients want in two years that they might not want today?”
There’s a saying that goes “fall in love with your clients, not your product,” even if that means adjusting the product you’ve put sweat and tears into perfecting. This can be particularly challenging for photographers who put everything into their work.
Businesses should always be evolving and changing, little by little preferably. But if you’re in the same place in two years as you are today, it might mean you’ve taken your foot off the gas.
5. Take Risks
If you imagine your business’ Risk to Growth measurement on a scale of 1 to 10, most people run their businesses in and around the 4 to 6 range.
A 4 is a below-average day. An example of a 4 is maybe you spent a few dollars on new software to put together a quote for a client, and you never got the gig. Not getting the gig is a bummer, you lost a few dollars on the software, but it’s the same type of client you get all the time, another will be along soon. You can reuse the software so not a massive deal.
A 6 is when you get that client. It’s better than a 4, but still, it’s your regular type of client so you expected to get it. No big loss or big gain. Your photography business is plodding along just fine, life is pretty chill in the 4 to 6 range.
On the other hand, the 1 to 3 and 7 to 10 range is where the action is.
With a 10 can come a 1.
Let’s say you spend 6 months of your marketing budget to net one big client. That potential 10 if you get the client can quickly become a 1 if you don’t, but this extreme range is where growth happens.
What if you were to spend months writing a tutorial that you and a couple of friends film together over a frantic weekend and put it out there for people to buy, and judge?
I did that. It’s called The TNT Method.
If it sells, that’s a big 10! If not, it’s a crushing 1. Big risk, big reward. When I filmed my tutorial I got lucky, people loved it. It wasn’t perfectly produced, but it got done and the information in there is gold. It was a huge step outside of my comfort zone, but huge growth happened when I hit that 7-10 range.
I’m not suggesting that you go out there and be reckless; every risk should be calculated. But be open to risk, step outside of your comfort zone and put yourself out there, the payoff can be amazing for your business.
Business isn’t sexy, I get it. The thrill I get from landing a big client will probably never compare to the thrill of perfecting a lighting technique you’ve been working on for months. But we have to take care of the business.
If we have a plan, a vision which gives our businesses direction. If we sell with intention, and realize that we’re in sales whether we want to be or not. If we surround ourselves with people who encourage us, and want us to do better. If we fall in love with our clients, not only our work.
And if we are open to taking risks and even let the risks excite us, we can continue to create beautiful images while growing our businesses and better serving our clients and our communities.
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