It’s not personal, it’s just business; Perhaps a saying more profound than most would imagine. As is the case with many endeavors born from a pursuit of passion, it can be hard for photographers to turn a hobby into a business. Here are five mistakes that might send you back to shooting as a hobby before you can even say “open for business.”
Being Too Nice
I love good customer service don’t you? I think I heard a resounding yes, but even businesses with great customer service have policies in place to prevent being taken advantage of. The reality of business is that there are clients out there who are indecisive or demanding to a point which is unreasonable. The whole point of business is to conduct an exchange of goods or services in such a way that you end up with a profit. If you don’t have policies in place to limit how much of your time is wasted, these demanding and indecisive clients can eat into your valuable time and actually cost you profit.
Massive corporations can be a little more lenient because they have the wiggle room in their finances to absorb the negative impact these clients can have. As a small business you are not quite this fortunate. Oftentimes, especially when starting out, each and every client counts. Margins are so small that even small hiccups can be disastrous. It is crucial for you to identify which clients are worth the time investment, and those which need to be politely put on the sidelines.
The devil is in the detail my friends. Chores such as accounting can seem a bit, well, like a chore. There really is no exciting way to present the thought of accounting. “Why don’t we go crunch some numbers and do some quarterly reports? Best day ever!” It has never been said, I can pretty much guarantee that.
That is no excuse however for avoiding your accounting. It has to be done, and it has to be kept up with. I will be the first to tell you I’m not that great at it. I hate doing it in fact. What I hate more though is the pressure of watching it all pile up and become an out-of-control mess that is infinitely harder to tackle.
So before you get lost in a sea of paperwork that will eat into your valuable time, and before you incur penalties that can put you out of business, do yourself a favor and find an accountant. If that is out of your budget, make it a priority to put in place a system that keeps you on track with your accounting. Make sure to set time aside to keep your expenses organized and your invoices and taxes paid!
We all do it. I’m an incredibly frugal person (ask my girlfriend), but even I lust over expensive toys and dream of exotic destinations. It’s nice to have a dream, but don’t let it turn your life into a nightmare! It is very easy to get caught up in thinking that you need new equipment.
Remember, you are running a business. You have a responsibility to yourself to stay profitable. If you do photography as a hobby, then sure, go spend your savings on whatever makes you happy and work some overtime to help pay it off. When you are a small business owner however, every bit of money you spend has to be looked at as an investment.
Before every purchase, ask yourself if what you are buying will have a good return. Will it impact how you do business in such a way that it results in profit? If you can’t answer that with a yes, then what you are buying is simply a toy.
Too Much To Handle
The greatest challenge to becoming a successful photographer, in my opinion, is keeping your business streamlined. As photographers we generally don’t have the means to employ a large staff to take care of all our daily tasks. This means we have to multi-task with incredible efficiency. We have to play many roles from photographer, to administration, to sales, and even a humble janitor if you own a studio like I do.
Many entrepreneurs, however, have one critical trait. They are much better at starting things than they are at finishing them. This is what fuels that inexplicable desire to start a business. The trouble with this is that we also have a tendency to have a lot of ideas for expansion and we want to capitalize on every single opportunity that comes our way.
This can be a trap that is very easy to fall into. What seems initially like a strategic business move will in fact prove to be an overly ambitious one. You are at risk of stretching yourself too thin, and without employees to rely on, all the burden is on you. Not only will your new ambition suffer but you will also be jeopardizing the rest of your business as you pull resources and time away from it.
Don’t stop striving for more, but make sure you lay a solid foundation that doesn’t crumble beneath you as you try and open new doors.
A big part of the journey to becoming a successful photographer is spent identifying and refining your style. This is not something that happens overnight. It is a pursuit that takes years to develop. Unfortunately a lot of photographers look at their style as an end goal. They think that once they get a signature style it is all easy coasting from there.
The truth of the matter is that trends come and go, and although certain looks are timeless, there is always an underlying need to grow and keep up with the current trends of the marketplace. If you simply become complacent and don’t further evolve your style you will inevitably become the photographer that has a portfolio stuck in another era.
Be vigilant about always re-inventing yourself and trying new things. Long-term success is not born from simply latching onto a niche and exploiting it, but rather from adaptability. The music industry is a perfect example of this. Artists such as Madonna are able to stay current because they have a knack for adapting and pioneering change. Those who don’t will live out their moment and fade into the abyss of irrelevance.