I've shared several posts on this topic over the years, but each Spring, just after convention season a lot of photographers start thinking about two areas of their business. First, if they're part-time, they start thinking about going full-time. Second, if they're established full or part-time they start thinking about what they need to do differently.
While the timing would be so much better earlier in the year, it doesn't matter. Building a more successful business is something you should be doing ALL YEAR LONG!
Let's start with dealing with fear, especially if you're part-time and thinking about going full-time. If you've developed a solid skill set, that's the first thing you need on your side, but it's not enough by itself. You have to think about marketing. Remember, any moron can get their first client. The key is getting the second, third and fourth ones and then getting that first one to come back. This isn't a career path where you can fake it 'til you make it!
Getting out on your own is supposed to create a little fear - if it didn't then everybody would be doing it. It took me most of my life to finally get out on my own, and I was terrified when leaving a great job as President of WPPI and Rangefinder Magazine
What was I afraid of? Failure! This is where my wife, Sheila, played such an important role and it's something everybody needs when you make a change like this - a good support network, whether it's just one person or a whole bunch of friends and family.
Time to get specific on business building ideas:
- Start with a direct mail, personal letter to all of your past clients. Unless you've been a complete bozo, your past clients are your best ambassadors. Then, do a similar letter to all vendors associated with your specialty - it's pretty much anybody who might ever need photographic support from a headshot to product images.
- Use your blog. Your website is about what you sell; your blog is about what's in your heart. The two play together, and it's great to hit the topic of exciting things you want to be able to share with the community. Don't express your fears - only the excitement of new products you're going to offer (call your lab, album company, and framer). Show excitement to have so much community support that you need to go full-time into the business of photography, or if you're jumpstarting your existing business then share the enthusiasm about the need to expand.
- What are you doing to make yourself different from everybody else? Look for things that your competitors aren't offering in your community and then make them part of what you offer.
- Get involved in your community! People like buying products and services from companies they perceive as giving back. You want the community to be good to you, so you better make sure you're good to your community.
- Do a complete website and blog makeover. It's ironic that many of you do glamour shots, but you never look at your own site or Facebook pages and consider a "makeover." Start with your "About" section. It should be in first person and only 3-4 paragraphs about why you love being a photographer/artist. This is about an artist's statement - nobody cares what you shoot with, how many awards you've won or how you got started - this is about sharing your heart.
- CLEAN UP THOSE GALLERIES! If it's not a "wow" print, then dump it. Always ask, "If this was the only image I could show, would I get hired?" If the answer is "no" then don't put it up on your site.
- Pound the pavement - identify every business owner within a couple of square miles of your location and walk in and introduce yourself. You don't have to sell anything, just let them know your skill set as an artist and photographer in the community and your availability. This is where somebody always says, "But I'm a wedding photographer! It's stupid to visit a real estate office." How about this approach for an opening? "While my specialty is wedding photography, I've got an amazing network. If there's anything you ever need help with, give me a call. I'd be happy to give you a hand." This is about relationship building and expanding your network into the community. Just let people know you're there to help.
- Start a networking luncheon - get everyone together once a month who has anything to do with your target audience. You're looking for an inexpensive place for lunch, hopefully with a private corner and everyone pays for their own meal. For boudoir: if you're full time, you should invite managers from a spa or two, salon, florist, women's clothing, etc. Weddings are more obvious with florists, bakers, venues, salons, tux shops, travel agents, limo companies, wedding planners, caterers, etc. Imagine the network you'd start to build if you were seated in between a florist and a caterer. Pets and Children would have the same kind of logical "partners". The purpose is getting to know each other, talking about events in the community, looking for ways to work together.
- Include a few photographers in your networking luncheon - you can't shoot every job that comes your way! Look to build relationships with people whose skill sets compliment yours.
- Put your phone number on your website! Give people a way to contact you along with your email address - do NOT go with just a template contact form. You want to respond to each request with incredible speed! A fast response time is going to help separate you from most of your competitors.
- Start building relationships with potential partners to cross-promote. For example, a spa, a makeup artist, and a photographer might be perfect to share the cost of a postcard mailing along with an email blast to women who fit the demographics for a boudoir session. Wedding photographers could easily partner with a florist and a caterer; a bridal show and a travel agent, and the list goes on and on. You don't need any more than 2-3 partners in any promotion/direct mail piece. When you bring in partners you dramatically reduce your costs and each partner becomes an ambassador for the other participants.
It's logical to be nervous about stepping things up, whether it's revitalizing an older business or giving up your day job to go full-time. Most important of all stay focused on your dream and don't let the "negators" in your life get to you. They're only jealous of your passion!
with goals so strong that obstacles, failure and lost only act as motivation."