I'm sure you've read a few dozen (if not hundred) posts about New Year's Resolutions, or lists of things that you should do in 2014. I'm not much for resolutions, but I do have a short list of things that I think every photographer should do this year. Why? Because your business depends on them. Seriously - these are the 6 things that I think could make the difference between a growing, profitable business - and one that fails in 2014.
1. Photograph things that you love.
I'm not talking about photographing weddings because you "love" them. Presumably, most photographers choose their business based on something they are passionate about - whether that's newborns, or weddings, or family portraits. That's great, but it's really not where I'm headed.
Right now, make it a goal that you're going to photograph things that you love in 2014. Make photographs that mean something to you, outside of what you're paid to do. Find a way to connect with a personal project that makes you both a stronger photographer, and a more balanced person. Find a way to practice your art.
Practice a lot. Practice on your friends. Practice on your dog. Practice on your kids. Take a class, better yet, take two. Take pictures constantly. Take at least 20,000 photos for this year, just because. Learn about exposure, composition, color, and depth of field. I don't care if you shoot film or digital, but shoot until you burn up a shutter. Then, get a new one and shoot some more.
Make photographs. Experiment. Do crazy things with your camera. Learn what it can do, and push the boundaries. Look through photography books and learn how the legends make their shots. Then go out and take more photographs - at least 10,000 more
2. Learn As Much As You Can About Your Business.
The reality is that you are a small business owner. As much as you are a photographer, you are a business owner, and as much as you invest in becoming a better photographer, it’s just as important to become the very best business person that you can. For a lot of photographers, this is scary, but the level of resources available to learn about running your business profitably, is truly remarkable today.
The truth is, there are a lot of people that are a lot smarter than either you or me. Many of them are experts in things that are super helpful to our businesses. The challenge is finding those people, and absorbing what they know. Fortunately, many of them are more than willing to teach and share. Some have written books. Some are regular presenters on business topics at conferences and events. Here are a couple of resources I recommend highly (shameless plug!):
The Photographer’s Resource Guide
Starting Out Right: Building a Profitable & Sustainable Photography Business
Additionally, there are a lot of really talented business people teaching and speaking at various conferences. I’ll be at the Inspire Photo Seminar, outside of Boston this February, and I’m speaking at WPPI - both on business related topics.
3. Expand Your Network
I've written about this several times, but easily one of the most beneficial things you can do to expand your network, is what I call "Meet One/Touch One."
It's really pretty simple. Every month, make it a priority to meet one new industry peer or vendor. It can be a planner, a venue sales director, a florist, a designer - whoever you want it to be. Make it a goal to meet just one.
There are a lot of great tools to connect with people - often Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are great places to start getting a sense for people - and to even introduce yourself. Just be sure to be authentic, and make it about them.
In addition to making one new connection each month, every week - reach out to one person who already has a relationship with your business. This can be an existing vendor or industry partner - or it can be a client. The key is to reach out and touch one person each week - to reconnect, and strengthen the relationship.
For me, my goal is to send one handwritten note each week to someone. Often its a thank you note to a client for their business, or a note to a vendor when I read something good about their business - or see a featured wedding published that they were a part of. I only write a note when it's authentic and genuine - and about them. I look for cool things that are happening with clients and partners, and send them encouragement when appropriate.
4. Get In The Habit of Saying Thank You
I'm a HUGE fan of the handwritten, personal note. I can't think of many things that have a greater return on your effort, than taking 5 minutes to write a quick note to someone, sticking a stamp on it, and dropping it in the mail. We ALL love getting personal notes.
When we get a note that has been handwritten, it communicates that we were important enough for someone to stop what they were doing, sit down at their desk, take out a pen and paper, and write down something meaningful.
My rule is this - whenever someone books me, or gives me money (places an order, etc), they get a handwritten thank you note. It might sound like a lot of thank you notes, but there's no better time than now to make it a regular part of your workflow.
When you think about all of the things that go into running a photography business, it can be overwhelming. At the same time, how much time are you spending on things that don't help you grow your business? How many of those things could you either find a better system, or find someone else to do them for you? Right now, decide that in 2014, you're going to quit doing things that someone else could do.
In fact, here's my rule: ONLY DO WHAT ONLY YOU CAN DO.
What do I mean? Exactly that. Look at your business honestly, and figure out the stuff you need to be doing, and only do that. Find someone else, or create a system, to do the rest. Why? Because, If you're a wedding or portrait photographer, chances are, you have very little margin in your business - and as a result - in your life. It's almost always better for you, and better for your business, to find someone else to do the rest.
Here's a few resources to help you, so you can quit spending time on the things that someone else could do:
ShootQ for client relationship management, booking, workflow and communications
ShootDotEdit for image post-processing
NinetyNine Beans for bookkeeping and accounting (full disclosure - I'm a part-owner of this company)
Zenfolio for online hosting of image galleries for wedding clients
Preveal for in person client viewing software on my iPad. (It's super simple, and it's gorgeous!)
6. Make Money
I've made this point more than once, but if it's a business, it HAS to be profitable. Otherwise it's just an expenseive hobby (which is fine, but not a business). Understand what it takes to be profitable.
Do the HARD work of figuring out what it costs you to be in business. Do the HARD work of creating a pricing plan that makes sense, and makes you money. Do the HARD work and create a marketing strategy around your ideal client, and be willing to say no to the wrong types of business.
Remember that every dollar you spend on the newest, fanciest gear, is a dollar you can't spend on your mortgage, or your kid's braces, or college. Remember that every time you work for free, it gets harder and harder to make money. There’s nothing wrong with making money - in fact, if you’re not making money, your business is failing. If you’re not running a business to make money, you should find something else to do - and just take pictures for fun.