Jen Basford: Making a Career Change Worthwhile

How many of you know a photographer who got into the business as a career change? Chances are, we all know someone like that (and it might even be yourself!). It doesn't matter where you come from; what matters is where you go with your photography in the end. Does it remain a hobby, does it take over your life, or can you balance it as a career you love?

Jen Basford of 3 girls photography in Edmond, Okla., went through a successful career change herself, and she knows the importance of getting your photography business established the right way (for you).

Making the Change
Jen had no photographic aspirations in school—she wanted to be an astronaut! That lasted about two weeks into her college career, though, which was how long it took to get her major changed. She ended up earning an MBA and working for Accenture. After several moves and her second daughter's birth, Jen's interest in photography was born.

"I didn't have any intentions of making a business out of photography, but I did want to learn how to do things right," she admits. Her MBA experience led her to study photography through courses and workshops…and to join PPA in 2005, way before she went into business as a photographer.

"I knew through business school that belonging to professional organizations was important in whatever profession you chose," Jen explains. "So, I searched out national photography associations and immediately joined PPA as a student."

It was only when she felt her skills were ready that she started her photography business, which now specializes in seniors, tweens and commercial fashion photography. Here again, her business experience came into play as she focused on establishing her business name, incorporating her business, applying for a sales tax permit and creating a business plan.

Building Sustainable Success
This kind of a photographic start might seem slow at first, but it's the strong, steady pace that can carry you successfully through the race (passing those who start fast but falter early). And it was this smart approach that also led Jen to PPA’s Studio Management Services (SMS), which provides business and financial consulting to studios.

"I wanted to be able to sustain my business through good and bad times," says Jen. She met Scott Kurkian, PPA's chief financial officer and chief operating officer, at Texas School in 2007, where he talked with her about SMS. "After having Scott look at my numbers and hearing what SMS was all about, I KNEW it was exactly what I needed to get my ducks in a row and make sure my studio would not only be successful, but profitable."

Now, Jen knew business. She understood financials and numbers before starting her photography studio. But she didn't necessarily understand how to use and apply them in her new business. That's where SMS and her various consultants/mentors came into play. They helped Jen fix key issues and gave her "tremendous ideas" to try every quarter. For example, Jen credits part of her success to Bridget Jackson, SMS manager and accountant: "Her way of looking at things from both a CPA standpoint and a reality/branding standpoint keeps me aware of what my business is doing, where I need to focus and what I need to do to get ahead."

Always Growing & Changing
"Having such accountability, help and ideas at my fingertips was so important, and I can guarantee that I wouldn't be where I am without it," adds Jen about SMS and her studio's growth. But what has made Jen's studio truly sustainable is that she hasn't stopped. "To be successful in business, you must constantly change and grow, even if nothing is 'broken,'" she explains.

What does Jen do every year to stay on track and keep growing?

  • Looks at expenses and how they can be trimmed (specifically her cost of sales, or COS)—While her COS now holds steady at the PPA benchmark, she's determined to drop that amount by about 5% each year. (Of course, with a boutique business model, there are certain costs she won't eliminate.)
  • Checks her pricing and profit margin—She wants to ensure that she's bringing in what she needs with the number of sessions she wants to photograph. "SMS has helped make this easy, and with my SuccessWare software, I can pull up reports at any time to see where I need to focus attention."
  • Constantly freshens her marketing to keep it in line with her branding—This is a critical step to profitable growth, in Jen's mind. "If I simply advertise and do the same thing over and over, my brand suffers, as do my studio and bottom line."

With these methods and more, Jen ensures that her career change has been a change for the better. An entrepreneur at heart, her smart choices have led her to do what she loves to do, when and where she wants to do it. In fact, she's now an SMS consultant who will be the first to remind you that "Success is feeling confident, proud and accomplished in both business and personal life…and always having something new on the horizon."

To learn more about Jen Basford, visit 3 girls photography. To learn more about the SMS education and consultations that helped her grow, visit Studio Management Services.

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