When Simone E. Morris started her professional photography business, she was passionate about photography, but the work and organization required to be the CEO of her own company took a back seat. She soon found the business floundering and resolved to go back to the drawing board to learn better business and leadership practices.
After years of studying business practices in depth, Morris reinvented herself as a leadership consultant, coach, and author who works with all manner of entrepreneurs on developing more effective business practices. Her award-winning techniques have earned accolades, including recognition by the Stevie Awards for Women in Business for her solo entrepreneurship. For creative entrepreneurs like photographers, Morris recommends three fundamental practices for business success: plan, partner, and promote.
The necessity for a plan shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, planning is the most common area where entrepreneurs falter. Formulating a good business plan can be overwhelming, but it’s a critical first step toward guiding your business to success. Even if you’re a seasoned photographer, building a good plan is critical. It’s not uncommon for professional photographers to dive in and end up going with the flow, responding to requests, and essentially letting clients dictate the direction of their business. If you’re feeling adrift, it’s a good idea to go back to the drawing board.
“This is an important process, even for seasoned photographers,” says Morris. “Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Determine what your goals are and how you’re going to accomplish them.” Chart a course for your business that you determine, not others, and then diligently steer in that direction.
Think about how you are going to gain customers and how you are going to retain customers. Consider fundamental questions: What is your marketing strategy? How do you onboard new clients? How will you follow up with past clients to continue your relationship and encourage repeat business? Put all of this in your plan, and adapt it as needed.
A common business planning problem is creating a blueprint that is too vague and without good ways to measure success. Identify how you’re going to make money and establish key performance indicators that you can track.
For example, you want to make a certain amount of money per month. What is your plan to achieve that? Break down the elements that go into your income streams in detail. Work backward from your target income, and determine how many sessions you need to book, what your average revenue per session must be, and what products and services you have to purchase to achieve that average. Then plan how you’ll drive this business, how you’ll create the necessary products, and how you’ll handle the associated business administration.
Your plan may include delegation of key tasks. If you have trouble tracking the details, hire an operations person to take charge of those details and hold you accountable for what you need to produce. Figure out where you can hire others to manage areas that aren’t your strengths so you can step back and be the visionary leader of your business. And put it all in the plan.
“Oftentimes we try to do all this alone, but it is so much work to be successful all on your own,” says Morris. “Think about people you can partner with who can lessen your stress and help you bring in more revenue.”
To build partnerships, establish relationships first. Find organizations where you can plug in your services, either ancillary fields that are already using photographers or areas that don’t have photographers. Get involved with these organizations, attend their events, participate in their initiatives. Follow and engage them on social media. Do your research to understand the core mission of a potential partner and how you can support their vision, values, and success. When you believe you can offer something of real value to them as a partner, then you’re ready to make the connection.
Effective partnerships extend far beyond the realm of revenue generation. They can allow you to collaborate with people or organizations that help you reach your full potential as an artist and a businessperson.
Mastermind groups, accountability partners, business coaches, and business networking organizations are all great options for collaborative partnerships.
For any partnership to be effective, there must be trust. “It’s hard to let go of control if there isn’t trust,” says Morris. “You have to get comfortable trusting partners as well as the people on your team. But also trust yourself that if things don’t go well, you are capable of course correcting.”
“Effective promotion is all about elevating your brand and expressing expertise,” says Morris. It also includes establishing credibility and building a consistent, memorable brand.
Build your thought leadership so your brand becomes recognizable. This process takes time. Do the work through your website, social media postings, blogs, online presentations, speaking appearances, and in industry publications to help establish your name.
Make the investment in your professional image. As a creative pro, you may be tempted to do a lot of your branding yourself. However, this is an area where trusting the expertise of other professionals will pay off. Hire a graphic designer for logo design and marketing collateral design. Work with copywriters to create effective messaging that communicates your core values effectively. Consult with social media marketers, digital advertising pros, and SEO experts to maximize your chosen marketing platforms.
Don’t forget to leverage validation by past clients. References and testimonials can help establish immediate credibility. Video testimonials are particularly effective because potential clients can hear the words directly from the source. Create brief videos of a few clients talking about the experience of working with you to help potential clients understand how their investment translates into so much more than just photographs.
“Deliver so that clients trust you and partners want to use their relationship currency to help open doors for you.”Simone E. Morris
Perhaps the most important step in promoting your business is understanding your customers and what is important to them. Is it your credentials, degrees, experience? Is it the feeling they get from working with you, the style of your images, the level of service you provide? Ask your past clients what drew them to you, then lean into those characteristics and include them in your promotions.
You have to deliver. If you don’t, you won’t get repeat business or referrals. Delivering means showing up reliably and reasonably. It means creating an experience that people can’t wait to tell their friends about. And it means providing a superior product that exceeds their expectations.
“Deliver so that clients trust you and partners want to use their relationship currency to help open doors for you,” says Morris. They are trusting that you’ll live up to your promises and make them look good when they refer you. They are trusting that you’ll do well. When you deliver on that expectation, so much of this process tends to fall into place.
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large.