by Skip Cohen
I've written about playing offense before, but it's time to put a few more ideas out there. Most of you have wrapped up the year and are chasing down those last holiday orders. You're about to hit the official "slow season" of our industry and it's the perfect time to be thinking about the new year. I don't know about all of you, but even in business, I'd much rather carry the ball than chase it.
1) Plan at least one consumer promotion a quarter. Start to think about things you could be doing to create some excitement for your business in the form of consumer or client-based promotions with one each quarter of the year.
2) What programs or workshops are you going to attend next year? Not every program requires you to hit the road for a week of hotels, air travel etc. Should you be at one of the big convention/trade shows? The year kicks off with IUSA in Phoenix, WPPI in March and PPE in NYC in the Fall. But don't just think about the big programs - there's a lot going on locally and regionally.
3) Establish a credit line with a leasing company...even if you're not buying anything right now! Here's where you can utilize somebody else's assets without depleting yours! You need the credit line in your back pocket, so that when you do need new gear you're ready to obtain it without hitting the panic button, because you don't have the funding. Your camera is your life line along with lenses, lights, printers and your computer! Most of you are always flying without a net - having the ability to obtain gear on a lease will give you a little extra security when you need it most.
4) The same goes for insurance! Fifty percent of the wedding and event photographers in this country list themselves as part time. That means most of you are playing Russian Roulette with your home insurance policies, which normally don't cover equipment used for business purposes. Check with your insurance agent and make sure your gear is covered under your policy. Also, do have indemnification insurance? Are you covered if you shoot a wedding and God forbid you lose the images before they're downloaded?
5) Do you have an attorney and a good accountant? You might not need either at this very minute, but at some time in everybody's business you're going to need more advice than you get with Google. At least once a month I get a call from a friend asking me if I know a good attorney. Most often it's just a routine question, but don't wait until the last minute to build these relationships. And in terms of accounting - GET A GOOD ACCOUNTANT! Your business is growing or has grown and relying on your copy of QuickBooks isn't going to help you when you need it most.
6) Network, network, network! A great network helps when it comes to playing offense and having other people on your team, as opposed to just heading out onto the "field" by yourself. You should be working all the time to keep building your network.
7) Holiday Cards! It's one of the easiest ways in the world to keep your name out there along with using your own images on your stationery. Start thinking about images for next year's holiday card now! Also look for images you can use for a "thank you" note application. Remember, on the back, just like the Hallmark label you should have your studio name and contact information.
8) Social Media - it's more than just a page on Facebook! It starts with consistency, which seems to be the problem for most photographers. They start out well and then back off... Social media isn't about posting at random and writing a blog post once a month, but for now, just think about your goals for next year. If you can't be dedicated to the approach then it's not time for you to get involved yet!
9) Do you have backup? Backup people, backup gear or a backup plan for a day when everything might go wrong? I wrote about it a few years ago - battling it out with the Gall Bladder From Hell, I lost two solid weeks in my own business and really had never thought about backup. You need a person or two you trust to know the key aspects of your business just in case you're caught in a bind. And no professional goes to a shoot without backup gear. As reliable as most equipment is, you're not, and sooner or later you're going to drop a camera body or lens.
10) What's your program to back up your computer? Where are your images stored? How about all your correspondence?
11) What's your specialty? Are you a one trick pony or do you have a couple of other tricks up your sleeve? If business disappeared in the specialty you're strongest in what's your game plane to still have a business?
12) If you got a call to shoot the biggest wedding of the year and needed help, who's on your list to call? The same goes for all you commercial guys - if you had a job bigger than anything you've ever done how would you do it?
13) Get to know the vendors you work with most. This has nothing to do with anything going wrong, but keeping things going right. Remember to say thanks to the people who help you the most. Make it a point to get to know the people at your lab, album company and framing company. Visit each convention with a list of every product you use and make it a point to meet somebody from each company. Get to know the operational staff at whatever associations you belong to. This is all about being able to pick up a phone and know the person you're talking to when you need help.
14) Identify a charity you want to work with next year. Interview a charity just like you would somebody you wanted to hire to work full or part time in your business. Don't just pick a charity at random, but focus on a cause that's important to you and your community.
15) Listen to podcasts, webinars and teaching DVD's. There's so much information available and you can pick up a lot just listening while you're driving or doing other activities. There are dozens of podcasts right here at SCU and on the Internet, great conversations and tips thanks to my buddy Dane Sanders, just to name one of the great programs out there.
I started this blog talking about playing offense versus defense. It's also called being proactive rather than reactive. In a successful business you've obviously got to cover both, but then Murphy jumps in with Murphy's Law, "If anything can go wrong it will!" Well, I'm a big fan of Murphy's second law - "Murphy was an optimist!"
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.