Running a photography business is hard work. As many of you know, it's usually more pencil pushing and email writing than standing behind a camera taking photos. With it being among the art community, it's incredibly easy to find excuses on why your business isn't reaching its full potential. But is it your business thats lacking, or your motivation?
A little over a year ago, I moved from the cold tundra known as Michigan to the dry desert known as Albuquerque. I didn't know a single person prior to moving here, and did absolutely no market research on whether or not this area needed, or could even afford another photographer in its presence. I called it my early mid life crisis, and like most of those, involved a lost girl, stubbornness, and a need for something new. But really, it was my sink or swim moment in photography.
Prior to moving here, and even the first few months of living here, business was okay. I wasn't making a ton of connections, wasn't marketing myself as well as I should have, and was only making enough to pay rent and expenses, but not much more. In the last six months, I've seen a huge influx of new business coming my way. Had I reached a tipping point? Had the gods finally looked down and accepted me? No. I changed my strategy of business, and it succeeded and helped push me to new heights.
This moment of change came on one very precise moment. I was out on a Friday night, having a couple of cold beers with a few friends of mine. Eventually, the conversation derailed from its usual antics and came focused on me. To my surprise, my friends were expressing envy of my lifestyle. Being able to work from home, coffee shops or wherever else I wanted to, and only work as hard enough as I need to survive. Thinking my job was nothing more than walking around some fields a few times a week taking photos of clients, and then spending the rest of the time joking around on Facebook. I know they meant well with their assessment and were largely ignorant on what a photographer really does, but I was still a little offended. I thought I worked hard, just as hard as them, and so I decided to test that theory the only way I really knew how.
I Bought a Time Clock.
Yes, one of those little obnoxious things that you get the luxury of not having when working for yourself. I sat one right on my desk, and I made sure I used it. When I was editing a set of photos, on location, or answering emails, I was punched into the “system”. When I was scrolling through Facebook, browsing reddit, or reading about hockey news, I was punched out. I am and was very neurotic about this, and had to be in order to get an accurate reading of how much work I was actually doing. What did I find? I was only working 2.5 hours a day! My friends were right, I was living a luxury, and the worst part was is that I had no idea.
So I changed that. I made sure I was working a 40 hour week just like everyone else. I mean, if I wanted to be taken seriously in the business world, I should atleast be working as often as they are, right? I began developing concept boards for clients, instead of just sending them the smorgasbord of photos via email. I had posters printed, and on weeks that I had trouble filling my allocated 40 hours, I'd ride around town posting them up. Finding less time for Netflix throughout the day, and replacing it with tutorial videos on retouching, business practices, and shooting techniques. When all else failed, and I found that I had nothing else to do for the day, I'd sit down and blog on my website (Which of course is incredibly valuable to your websites SEO, which will help your future business grow). Not only was I seeing that my skillsets in photography and retouching were improving, but others were seeing it too. I was creating work that others wanted to show off. Because of all this invested time I was putting on my business, I also found I was taking advantage of one principle that I believed but never truly followed ---
Treat Your Clients Like They're Your Only Clients.
The concept has always been simple to me. Be nice to others, and you'll eventually be rewarded. I found that by sending more than just a “Here is your pass gallery, let me know what you think!” to my clients emails, and instead, interacting with them, I was leaving a lasting impression. I was getting more referrals, and more responses because I was showing that I cared beyond the two hours it took to take their photo. I was taking more pride in my work, and as a result, they wanted others to have the same luxury they got from it.
I get a lot of actor headshot work through two different actor agents here in Albuquerque. So one day, I sent them flowers. It was a gesture that they certainly earned, sending me over 50 clients in the first year of living here and upon receiving those flowers, what did they do? They took a picture of them and posted it up on Facebook & Instagram. Now I wasn't expecting it to be some viral marketing campaign, and I genuinely wanted to show my appreciation for them and the business they provided for me. But upon them publicly thanking me, I got 6 new clients from it. People saw that I was showing appreciation for others, and wanted to be apart of that. The $100 spent at ProFlowers was a small price to pay for all the additional work I got from the gesture. Perhaps the best part of all, is that it's all tax deductible.
Now since then, I returned the time clock, and replaced it with an app on my phone. I eventually got to the point where there was no sense in wasting paper, and the phone option provided a better system for shoots on location (No client wants to be reminded of work upon seeing me punch in prior to their family photo session). Please don't mistaken that and assume I've no longer find a need for the time clock, I still use it every day to track my work progress; after all, it is what I attribute the last 6 months of success to. Now am I rich? Absolutely not. Am I financially wealthy? That might be pushing it. But have I seen a huge growth in business, despite only living here a year? Yes, I have.
So my point is this. Find a reason for your motivation. Prior to having a ticking clock staring at me all day, my only motivation to improve was to pay my bills, and have money to be able to hang out with friends on the weekend. Certainly I wanted to make more money, but there wasn't anything to help me take that first step. So I guess I'm saying, my motivator is a clock, what is yours?