Building a Resilient Business

Enduring success in any business requires resilience. Today’s most enduringly successful artists are those who are flexible enough to adapt to changing markets, changing trends, and changing consumer tastes, all while remaining true to themselves.

Author and nationally acclaimed speaker Elaine Pasqua has spent years researching the concept of resiliency in some of America’s most successful artists and professionals. A common thread that weaves through their stories is their willingness to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. For photographers, this process can be difficult to embrace if they’ve already found a successful formula. However, as Pasqua points out, “Just because you’ve been doing something for years and found success in that model, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the right thing tomorrow.”

When times are changing—and have they been changing lately—it’s important to evaluate where you stand with your work. If you’re feeling burned out and diminished, if you’re less passionate about your art, if your bookings are falling off, then it may be time to consider a change. However, that change doesn’t need to be a wholesale abandonment of everything that got you where you are today.

“Reinvention doesn’t need to be a personality change,” says Pasqua. “It could be tweaks to your products, equipment, how you market yourself, or just staying current with consumer tastes.”

If you can flex with the changing times while staying true to yourself, then you’re set up for a resilient career regardless of the outside forces affecting your business. You can’t become complacent. With each shift, each upgrade, each reinvention, you have to communicate with your audience and express the value of what you provide.

With that in mind, Pasqua offers tips to photographers looking to craft a more resilient business.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to people just because you think they’ll say no. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”

Elaine Pasqua

Put yourself out there. Many people are content to withdraw into themselves. They’ll put in their ear buds or stare at their smartphone and block out everyone around them. But if you want to grow your business and take your work in exciting new directions, you must engage those personal connections that are waiting to happen all around you.

Pasqua talks about a concept called the strength of weak ties, which comes from a study showing that more than 75% of business opportunities come from casual contacts, not necessarily people who are close. The idea bucks conventional wisdom that friends and family should be the backbone of your business, and more important, it shows that your next business lead could come from anywhere. But it depends on putting yourself out there. “You never know who is sitting next to you,” says Pasqua. “People want to help. People want to refer others. Tap into that by getting out there and making those connections.” 

Continually publicize. The next step is actively publicizing—sharing your work, your images, your inspirations, and the story that will draw more people to you. This involves more than just sharing your latest photographs on social media. Include compelling copy with those images to shape your story and demonstrate the value you bring as well as the personality behind the images.

Sell your personality. A lot of people can take pictures. Clients want to work with a professional who brings something additional to the equation. Think: What makes you interesting? What would make you more compelling to people who want to hire a photographer? Show that you’re easy to work with, and that you understand consumers’ needs. Then double down on those elements in your social posts, marketing materials, and other communications.

Treat each project as an audition for the next job. Of course, the best publicity is your work itself. Especially in a field that’s made for sharing, like photography, each new project should be a showpiece to attract future clients.

Speak in your clients’ language. When writing copy to promote yourself, use the words of your best clients. Repurpose testimonials and refer to yourself in the same terms because that’s what other people like them will relate to.

Don’t get discouraged. Learn to push through challenging times. You have to develop a thick skin and keep moving forward. “If you cower in defeat every time there’s rejection, you’ll never succeed,” says Pasqua. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to people just because you think they’ll say no. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.”

Give yourself permission to be human. You’re going to have days where you’re frustrated, when you’ve been rejected, and it’s a struggle to keep a positive outlook. Those are normal human reactions. Take a break. Walk away from what you’re working on and do something else to elevate your mood. Reengage when you’re ready to refocus.

“We spend 10 percent of our time listening and 90 percent formulating a response. It’s important to have those silent gaps in the conversation to allow you to truly listen and process what your clients are telling you.”

Elaine Pasqua

Communicate value. Education is crucial when it comes to expressing the value of what you provide. Explain why things cost what they do. Let people in on the process. By communicating your value, you can more easily present yourself as a high-end professional rather than a low-cost commodity.

Ask questions. Ask more questions and talk less about yourself. When you ask a question, really listen to the response. “We spend 10 percent of our time listening and 90 percent formulating a response,” says Pasqua. “It’s important to have those silent gaps in the conversation to allow you to truly listen and process what your clients are telling you.”

Don’t rest on your laurels. No matter how successful you become, you can’t count on past achievements to drive future success. Enduring success requires adaptability to consumers’ changing needs and the willingness to continually reinvent yourself for the next step in your business development.

Follow your passion. Building a resilient business is founded on following your passion, not the money. But if you have passion and you pursue your work in an inspired way, the money will follow. 

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.