WHAT ARE YOU BUILDING?

This was first posted back in 2010, but I think it's just as relevant today.  It's also been shared in a few other places, but sometimes a reminder is just as helpful as hearing something for the first time!


A while back, I was in a strategy meeting for a project I'm working on, and the question was asked - which of these two buildings are we building?  

The difference is pretty clear.  On the left - the leaning tower of Pisa.  It's famous for one reason alone - it's falling over.  Sure, we're slowing down the inevitable, but because of it's poor foundation, it's falling over after just a few hundred years.

On the right, the Pyramid of Giza.  For most of modern history, this was the tallest man-made structure on earth.  It has lasted THOUSANDs of years, and has withstood earthquakes.  We don't know know exactly who built it, or how, but yet it stands firm.  It's foundation is solid - even as it rests in the sand of the desert. 

The Pyramids aren't nearly as sexy as the tower. Italian architecture is far more appealing, and "artistic" than the granite monuments, built mostly as tombs.  The tower was built as a work of art.  It is made of marble and took over 177 years.  Yes, the tower took 177 years.  It was a painstaking labor, yet all that work is in jeopardy because it's foundation is too shallow, and too soft.   

The pyramid, in comparison, was built in 20 years.  It's foundation goes deep into the desert floor.  It's base is wide, and it's purpose clear - to stand the test of time.  To stand against whatever might come against it.

As photographers, our business is often too much like the tower.  We focus on our art, yet our foundation is too shallow to support what we're really trying to build.  I guess the question is - what are you really trying to build?  If the reason you do this is simply because you love photography - that's ok.  Being passionate about photography is good.  Being passionate about your art is a good thing, but if that's all there is - you're much better off with a hobby. 

If, on the other hand, this is your business - your livelihood - than it's worth it to lay the foundation.  It's worth it to take the time to build it deep and wide.  It's worth it to understand your business like you understand your camera.  It's worth it to hire a CPA, and an attorney that understands the needs of small businesses.  It's worth it to learn how to understand your numbers, manage your expenses, track everything, and make a profit.  

It's worth it to understand consistent branding and effective marketing.  It's worth it to develop solid processes and and a strong workflow.  It's worth it to learn effective sales skills, and create incredible customer experiences.  None of those things are photography.  None of them are "art," but all of them build the foundation.  All of them let you build a business - a career - around this photography thing you do.

I'm certainly not suggesting you shouldn't continue to focus on - and practice - your photography. You should!  You should understand how your camera captures light.  You should know composition, and exposure, and lighting ratios.  You should be able to photograph in any situation, and consistently create incredible images.  That's all super important.

I'm suggesting that sometimes it's helpful to evaluate what we're building.  It's helpful to ask ourselves the real question - is this an artistic pursuit of a hobby - or is it a real business?  Is my foundation deep and wide, or is it shallow and soft? 

Wanna build a solid foundation?  Here's a few places to start:

Liana Lehman's Photography Business Bootcamp. 

Laura Novak Strategy Avenue

PPA SMS Workshops

WPPI Business Institute

Anne Monteith Photography Business Workshops

Starting Out Right: ONE DAY INTENSIVE