Beth Forester: Always Looking Ahead
About 15 years ago, Beth Forester, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, created a part-time home studio in Madison, W.V., to explore her interest in the art of photography. Today, she juggles Forester Photography—which has cornered the senior portrait market in her area and moved into a modern downtown facility—and photoDUDs, a drag-and-drop design software company for photographers. She's happy, profitable and doing what she loves.
But how did she navigate those difficult early years and keep growing? "I think the key to my success is that I'm always looking ahead," says Beth.
Growth of a Business
Like most, Beth's photography business grew in stages. Rarely does anyone decide to become a photographer and—bam!—start up a smoothly running full-time studio the next day. There are hard decisions to be made and, more often than not, the business you start out with will change significantly.
For example, Beth's photographic passion increased with her daughter's birth. But photography (especially film, which she started in) is not cheap, and she needed to support her hobby somehow! That led her to take on small jobs and charge for them. She even taught tennis lessons for an entire summer, just to buy the medium-format camera she wanted!
Later, at a crossroads in her life, Beth needed a job, needed to support herself. She looked at her history degree and wondered if she should teach. Then she looked at her photography again. More and more people wanted to hire her…could she do this full time? Beth decided on the photography path, but within a year and a half, she realized she had to change a lot of things if she was going to do more than pay her bills.
Pricing Challenges & Smart Choices
"I priced myself too low from the beginning," Beth explains. "I quickly realized that I needed to re-evaluate my pricing so I could earn a living—which includes things like paying for health insurance and other responsibilities." And that makes treating a photography business like a business even more vital.
Luckily, as Beth says, she was still in the film era when this happened. "I was already more conscientious about clicking the shutter because I knew it cost me about $1.50 each time," she says. "And the outsourced retouching, color correcting and printing were already built into my prices. Nowadays with digital, people are doing most of these processes themselves…but are forgetting to take that time and labor into account."
What she hadn't done, though, was price herself to make a profit, as any business needs to do to survive and thrive. So, she revamped her price list slowly and set it up to sell more products. Winning awards and earning national recognition for her images helped her build those prices, too! Still, it took her several years to overcome that "bad pricing" in the beginning.
When digital came around, then, Beth was ready. She restructured the rest of her business to take into account the extra post-processing work she was doing, which led to cutting down the number of sessions and increasing the prices accordingly. Now, she has six types of senior sessions—and the three VIP choices have spending minimums, assuring her of a certain income before committing her time.
Another Smart Choice: PPA
In the early days of her decision to follow photography, Beth put her history degree skills to work and researched. She wanted to become a better businessperson, so she looked for such education. As a result, she joined PPA in 2000.
She says that PPA's education has helped her throughout the years, especially when she decided to buy a retail location. She had money saved and wanted to make an investment in herself, but it meant going into debt for the first time in about 13 years and putting $225,000 into a business location. "I wanted hand-holding. I wanted someone to help me see if I was doing the right thing at the right time, transforming my business the right way," Beth adds. So, she turned to PPA Business Consulting, and they guided her through the process.
And now, Beth has become a consultant herself, ready to give a helping hand to other photographers. "There are so many people in the photographic industry who have talent but are struggling," adds Beth. "I feel that if I can help others—like I was helped—then I can help raise the industry as a whole."
Key to Success
What's helped her the most, though, is her forward vision. She's always looking ahead, and it helps her:
- Make a list of goals – "If you don't have goals or direction, you'll struggle with setting prices and achieving success."
- Compare her numbers year to year – It's necessary to see if your sales are stable or if you might be falling short on any goals (so you can readjust what you're doing).
- Build backup plans – "What if the whole industry goes south? What would you do?" Beth asks. "If you're already thinking two steps ahead, you'll be ok." For example, when she moved into a new building, she couldn't shoot for a month. She had planned for that and was able to implement a special to bring in cash flow.
- Not get complacent – "I have to be better than Beth Forester last year," she says. "You are your own competition, and you can't ever stop competing."