Trying to run a successful business? Unfortunately many photographers think of themselves as photographer’s first, business owners second.
If you’ve started up your own business, your business is everything. Your niche, or what you specialize in, just happens to be photography. Business is business. If you want to be successful, you have to make sure your business has key characteristics in place before you grow it to the next level. Yet that can be hard for some. Take a look at these 8 things, and see how many you are currently doing.
1. Hold checks and bills until “payday”
Do you ever find yourself holding a bill back until a client comes in with an order? You have a cash-flow issue.
Many businesses go under not because they are low on clients, but because they don’t have enough cash on hand to pay current expenses. Start a savings account now and build up three to six months of cash-flow. If you normally spend $2000 in a month, have $6000 to $12,000 on hand. This will help you during downtimes and slow periods.
2. Do everything for the first time
Do you find yourself typing up the same email again and again? Do you find yourself answering the same questions over and over? You may be lacking a system.
Chances are you repeat yourself a lot throughout the week. “Do you have this date open?” is a common question emailed to wedding photographers. Sit down and come up with a great email for both answers – yes and no. In the yes email, you can describe your services, ask for more details like where the event is taking place, and lead them to different portions of your website. In the no email, you can refer a friend that may have the date open. If you create a great email upfront, you simply copy/paste, and change a few of the details.
For every instance you find yourself repeating your actions, sit down and create a perfect system. Then use it again and again. It will give you more time to do the important things in your business.
3. Do everything yourself
The quickest way to achieve burnout is to do everything yourself.
Start by relying on people for little things. A bookkeeper to do your data entry. Someone to do your retouching. Then slowly release more as you become busier, and find the right person for the job.
4. Spend everything you make
Have you ever been caught in this cycle?
A wedding photographer books most of his events the first four months of the year. So he heads out, buys new camera equipment, updates his technology, and pays off some bills. Then a few months later the orders start coming in. He owes lab bills, album companies, framing stores and other production businesses money. So he starts dipping into the credit cards because the cash is already spent.
We fell into that trap for a while.
Instead, for every client that comes through the door, put aside enough funds to cover their expenses. If you know the average client runs around $400 in production costs, put $400 into a savings account, and only withdrawal when they complete their order.
5. Work by the pile method
When you first start out, it’s easy to put a pile here and a pile there. But when you have dozens of clients, it suddenly becomes more difficult to keep track of where everything is.
The sooner you start a system for filing, the easier it will be to keep up with regular maintenance. To help us keep everything neat and filed, we purchased different colored files – blue for wedding clients, yellow for portraits – and would file them by year. We could quickly find anything we needed with just a quick glance through our filing cabinets.
6. Do more work than you’ll get in return
I once spoke with a photographer who spent on average 16 hours in Photoshop for every portrait client she brought in. That 16 hours was between when she shot the portrait, and when she showed her work to her client. She wanted them to see her “vision” of every print, hoping they would buy more by seeing the final production.
The disappointment came when they bought a couple of images, with an 8×10 being the largest size.
If you want people to see your “vision”, have samples on hand. Don’t spend time on tasks that may not bring in cash. Spend time selling your work instead, allowing people to “see” what you see through samples.
7. Put marketing on the backburner
Marketing can be boring, tedious, repetitious, and tiresome. Or you can look at it as one of the best parts of your business.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of shooting, especially when you have a ton of clients coming in. But what about a couple months down the road when no one is calling?
Marketing guarantees a continual stream of clients, and a continual stream of income. Make sure you put marketing first on your calendar every week.
8. The customer is always right
There seems to be a common belief that the customer is always right. Nothing can be further from the truth. And in some cases, the client is dead wrong.
The key to great customers is knowing how to find them before they contract with you. If you have a strong message, a viable business model, and you have confidence in your products and services, you’re more likely to attract great customers.
And when you find the occasional “wrong” one, simply fire them. Hand them back their deposit and walk away. You’re much better off spending your time and energy on the ones that you love – and love you too.