It's no secret that most photographers are really bad at actually running a business. After all, the idea is to make a living making art and art doesn't require you to know what ROI means. All you need to know is how to create with your chosen medium right? Yes, if you love Ramen noodles. I don't know about you but I've certainly had my fill of them and despite the fact that I could easily win Iron Chef: Ramen...I'm not in any hurry to be that broke again.
Tutorials on how to take better photos, or retouch like a boss are really easy to find. Yet it wasn't so long ago that the only way you could really learn a successful photo business model, was by assisting a successful pro. Of course while this is still a perfectly viable approach, it is not without it's drawbacks. For one, you are learning their process...which could be seriously flawed. Look at the tax issue that Leibovitz went through not too long ago, or what I can only call the Richardson phenomenon. Bad business is bad business, being ignorant of what that looks like isn't smart and it generally comes with big consequences. However, this isn't going to be me preaching to you about ethical practices. That's on you.
What I am going to do is provide you with some reading material to help develop a solid foundation for your business. I don't get a kickback here, this is required reading for every single company I consult with from makeup manufacturers to financial trading platforms. It's required because the knowledge and advice they teach just works. You are an entrepreneur, and it's time to start thinking like one.
So here we go!
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
To put it simply, this book will change the way you look at running any business. Ries discusses a fundamental shift in managerial thinking with it's roots in Toyota's factory production system. You'll learn how to think lean about all aspects of your company by learning to define and eliminate waste. You'll understand how to approach your products from a perspective of validated learning. Most importantly you'll come to understand what it means to pivot and how it can make or break you.
This book explains concepts at a high level but is still extremely accessible. The thing to remember is that you need to be sure you grasp the concepts, and then find a realistic way to apply them to what you're doing right, and what you're doing wrong. It's ok to make it your own, as long as you understand and adopt the concept.
Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur
I'm not kidding when I say that I teach this on a daily basis. So many people get caught up and then overwhelmed by the idea that they need a business plan before they get going. It's not that this idea is wrong, it's just ill-defined and often very ahead of itself. What do I mean? Well, I mean that yes you need a plan but not in the sense of a 10-1,000 page document outlining everything you could possibly need to know. That's fine when you're seeking a dump truck full of capital, but not when you're just getting going. Instead, startups need to understand the view from 30,000 feet. Like outlining the steps of a major project.
The core of the book is the Business Model Canvas, one of my absolute favorite tools. The canvas is a method of defining the building blocks of your business in a way that is not only easy to understand and develop...but also easy to revise. Your business will need to be dynamic so being able to make strategic changes that don't require writing another epic plan are pretty valuable. I recommend most companies review and revise their canvas every month in the first 6 months, and every 3-6 months after that.
Before you start googling "business model canvas" and jump into making sense out of what information you need to provide, let me say this. There is far more to this text than just a snazzy worksheet. It's very difficult to understand your own business model if you don't know anything about others. There is enough information in this beautifully illustrated book to fill 9 different ones. Don't cheat yourself. Get it and study it.
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port (Illustrated)
I specify the illustrated version of this one because it was a much more enjoyable read for me. BYS isn't so much a startup education as it is a system to get clients to call you non-stop. Consider this your sales and marketing training manual. If the Lean Startup is the car, and Business Model Generation is the GPS...then Book Yourself Solid is the gas.
Port's system just works, and it's the defacto standard for anyone in a service based industry...which we all are. There are way too many things in this book that you need to know but one of the biggest is often terrifying for people. That's the idea of a "velvet rope" policy. The term applies to being selective about what clients you allow yourself to work with. The general rule in business is that 20% of your clients will provide 80% of your income. This means that you want those clients to be the rockstar clients you dream about. Determining who those clients are, and understanding how to get them to want you is a massive hurdle for a ton of us. Port helps us tackle that issue early on.
Putting this one idea into practice means that established businesses will likely have to fire some clients, and new businesses won't be able to accept anything that comes their way. Hence why I say that this thought scares people. Fear or not, it works.
So that's the list. It's enough information to keep you learning for the next year. Many of you won't want to, or will start but never finish. However, to those of you that give this a genuine effort, I promise that if you read and apply these three books to your business over the next 365 days, you won't even recognize your business this time next year...and you'll be thrilled about what it's become.