You have probably heard it said. 'If you fail to plan, then you better plan to fail'. That saying is no less true today than the day it was first coined. It concisely conveys the thought that without a clear idea of what direction one takes that eventually, they will end up going nowhere and accomplish nothing. Have you made progress or have you maintained? Just like a road map or GPS a plan lays out what path needs to be taken to get you to your destination (your end goal) and goals are like marker posts on that road along the way (or like snoop dogs voice, for those of you with a Tom Tom app. 'turn left for shizzle') they tell you how far you have come and how much further you need to go. They also let you know if you have taken a wrong turn. Without a plan and goals not only will you become lost, but eventually you will become apathetic and finally just stop. At best you will be rendered inert.
I won't pretend to have all the answers. No one person can. I can say however that I try to approach learning with the same mind-set a scientist approaches science. Science itself is about filling in gaps of knowledge where pockets of ignorance reside. Answering questions and asking more questions. As for photography and business, they do not fall under the umbrella of science. Still I approach them with a similar frame of mind, to eliminate those pockets of ignorance and to learn and grow through trial and error and educated guesses. If I can learn through observation I will. A loose definition of insanity could be to do something repeatedly the same way but to expect a varied result every time. So to it would be insane to keep trying the same techniques in business or photography and expect new (more positive) results. Personally I hate the feeling that I am spinning my wheels, I see it as a waste of time and energy. I am sure most reading this feel the same way.
With that being said, where do we start? What plan should you make? Good question's Chad! Why thank you Chad! (See when you have your own blog you can do this sort of stuff). With the subject as vast as these two I cannot cover everything in one post, perhaps not even one blog, nor do I care to. What I can do is touch on a few things to get the proverbial ball rolling. Hopefully some will read this and at the very least be spurred on to make changes for the better.
As I write this I am forced to consider my audience. I would say there are two camps of photographers. Of course there will be various mixes of these two. Whether you lean one way or the other, you still will fall into these two groups. They are the Artistic camp and the Business camp. I would say the majority would fall into the first category. Most get into photography because they enjoy the creative side of it and they think it would be great to get paid for doing it. So they jump in, without preparing and/or without knowledge of how to make a business viable.
The trouble is if you are solely in the Artistic camp you won’t last unless you learn what it takes to make a business that can survive and thrive. There is a reason why 50% of all businesses fail within their first 5 years. Likewise if you have no talent creatively, no matter how great you are with SWOT analysis, Guerrilla marketing, or Quicken Books you won’t last long when people are totally uninterested in what you create. You need the sizzle and the steak. The good news is you can learn business, creativity not so much. More good news, there is a need for creativity in business. So take heart.
There are a few things you can do that I have learned over the years to mitigate the dangers of starting and running a business.
- Count the cost
- Business plan
- Marketing plan
- Continued education
(1) Knowledge: You can never have enough. Go get yourself educated! Nothing wrong with hitting the books. I don’t mean you need to go to college and pay a boat load of money. For the most part I can say it is a waste of time. If you know HOW TO LEARN and MANAGE YOUR TIME then college may not teach you what a good text-book can teach. Going to College does not make one smart and they still make you read the books. College is a business, a very well run business. It’s not the magic bullet; I know plenty of graduates that lack real world sense. I’m not harping on college; I merely mean it has its place. If not in a college text-book where else can you turn for information… you guessed it! The internet has a lot to offer. I say that with a caveat, be discerning. Just because there is information for the taking doesn't mean you should just scoop up as much of it without regard for common sense. Don’t believe every word you read or hear… that would be foolish. For an almost endless source of books try renting them, it might be cheaper. I like Safari Books Online. The point is there is much you can learn. Just take care to read the latest editions and read reviews. Spend your time wisely.
Knowledge is power. You can either get it by studying or through hard knocks. For those of you that don’t understand what I mean… you will. No I am just kidding. But the fact of the matter is that it is true, you pay for your education one way or another. Either monetarily or through experience (that’s code for tough life lessons). So why not pick up a book and learn. It is much quicker and easier. If you don’t know something but want to, then jump on a forum and ask! That’s when the anonymity of the internet is great! Go ahead read, probe, ask, and grow! The time you put into it will serve you for life. I will say it again knowledge is power.
(2) Count the cost: A wise man once said, 'who of you that wants to build a tower does not first sit down and calculate the expense, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, he might lay its foundation but not be able to finish it... Or what king, marching to meet another king in war, does not first sit down and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand troops to cope with the one that comes against him with twenty thousand?' The point should be clear, consider the vast resources you will need to make your business operate and not only survive but thrive. CASH IS KING. Capital is the life blood of your business. Without it your business will die a quick and painful death. Consider the following questions.
How is my credit? Do I need money to support my current lifestyle? How many months can I live on what I have saved? Do I have anything saved? If not, why not and how can I change this? How soon do I have to take this business full-time? Is my family supportive? Have I ever tried something like this before? If so, why did it fail? Have I learned from it? Do I have the courage to see this through difficult times? Do I have the energy? These are just a few of the many questions you need answers to before proceeding.
(3) A Business plan: If it is a must when taking your business public or growing it into a large organization or when prospecting new investors, then how much more so would someone new to business need one. Really it is essential we have one. I recommend www.sba.gov for more information either way. You could borrow a sample from another successful business or download a template off the internet as well. They even have a few for Photographers and it does not matter which demographic you live in whether its Rochester NY or San Francisco CA, they should fit your general needs too get you started. You can use it to help flesh out portions of your personalized business plan that perhaps have never been considered or to identify areas of weakness that can be addressed. When you go to write it out you are forced to think about all aspects of that business. And don't beat yourself up if yours inst completely polished. However, I recommend something, if you have nothing this should be one of the first initial steps you take. Especially if you have never run your own business before.
(4) A Marketing plan: Not to be confused with a business plan or even advertising. A lot of photographers think that they can take really great pictures and take on as much free or near free work and that they will at some point explode with leads and be in such demand that they can name their price. But that is sadly a dream. We would like to think if enough people know about our work they would have to have our photography. But this is not the case. Why? Well mainly because we are not speaking to them on any real level. Good marketing tells a customer what the features and benefits are to them in a way that is persuasive. Great marketing speaks to people’s ideals and lifestyle. It appeals to them on a deeper level. Think Apple Products. You get the idea? More on that later.
(5) Continued education: This is something I witnessed over and over in photography. That is, a stagnant skill set. You may have seen it before. A photographer takes the same picture of a different couple or person in the same pose with the same focal point, DOF, and effects. It's not to say ditch your bread and butter, perhaps you are well-known for a certain look or do something that sets you apart, perhaps its something in demand. That is great, work that! But when there is no progression, no growth. Look at your work from 3 years ago. Does it look the same? Now we have a problem. What is it? Chances are you, we.... have become comfortable. We have learned nothing new and thus we do not stretch and grow as photographers. I believe that a person should always be learning. In life we are ever learning, ever-growing. It is one gigantic class. Photography is no different. Educate yourself. Refresh your skill set. Take a class, read a book, join an association. Do something to challenge yourself. If you are not growing you are withering, and those that refuse to keep up will eventually be left behind. Do you want to be left behind? Of course not! So exert yourself. Put thought into it and reinvent yourself. If that doesn't work, enlist others to help. Remember point number 1? Revisit it. Again I don't have all the answer, no one does. I am eliminating things that don't work and keeping things that do, and sharing some of what I find along the way.
One final thought on how to run your business. For small business you have two characteristics you need to pick out of three in order to operate your business in a niche and be effective at it. That is, you can be good, cheap, and fast. Pick two, you can't be all three. Your either good and cheap or fast and cheap, or good and fast. No way you can be all three and still make enough money to stay in business and profit.