How to Build the Foundation for your Photography Business
All right, so let's talk about building your foundation. So first thing we're gonna talk about is how do you get started? Maybe some of you have passed this point. Maybe it's a good time to look back and kind of review, just like having a business plan and you sometimes wanna return to that and review that business plan on a regular basis to make sure that you're on track, that you're actually doing what you set out to do. So one of the things that I suggest is making a backwards plan. Backwards plan means, not saying, here's how much I can make. It's saying here's how much I need to make to do my bills, to live the way I wanna live, to make ends meet. Now I need to figure out how I need to price and charge and how many jobs I need to shoot to make it that month. So it's kinda starting with your goal. And I think that's important is you put your goal first. You know, not put, like, well I think I can shoot two weddings and I think I charge this much. Well that only gives me this much. ...
That's not gonna work. That's a negative way of thinking. The way to do it is put your goal first. So, you could do it like this. In five years, I wanna be making X dollars per month and I wanna be working X number of hours per week. And that's important. It's sort of a little thing we don't think about. Everybody kinda thinks, I'm gonna work 40 hours a week. I'm gonna work 50 hours a week or 60 hours a week. Do you really wanna work that many hours a week? I don't. I don't work 40 hours a week. If I work 30 hours a week, honestly right now that's a lot. Because I don't want to work more than that. I wanna live a life of, I wanna play with my kids. I wanna go ride my motorcycle. I shoot fun projects for fun which I don't consider part of work so I go and shoot videos and things that friends of mine's, but my actual work work, money-generating stuff is probably about 30 hours a week for me. What is that for you? I don't know. That's totally up to you. Maybe you love a 40 hours week. So figure that out. And I'm gonna give you a little chart you can plug these things into, too and online we have one as well. So to make X dollars a month, I need to shoot so many weddings and portrait sessions, netting so and so per session. Now you're gonna, I wanna show you how to figure out those numbers so don't figure you can do all this in your head right now. It's not gonna happen that easily, but I'll show you how. But the overall process is then to net so and so and such amount per session, I need to charge X. And this is kind of a good, kind of a high level way to figure out what you need to charge based on true business numbers. Not based on what you think your work is worth. That's totally out there. That is not relevant. What you think it's work is probably lower than it really is worth. And somebody else might think it's worth this much. Someone else might think it's worth this much. So here's what it might look like. A very simplified backwards plan. And this, there's a spreadsheet for those of you online and you guys in the class, you'll have this as well. I have a spreadsheet that you can download. An Excel spreadsheet. It has this, you just punch in the numbers and it calculates it all for you. And this is what it looks like. Basically, you from what we just talked about earlier, you figure out, here's my monthly income that I need. This is like personal income. So we're talking like a sole proprietor. Very simple business here. So say you need this much to pay your rent, your whatever, your studio overhead may be higher or lower than this. This is if you rent a studio. If it's in your home, then your overhead is part of your home so that might be included in the top. You can line item it out but it could be anything specifically for your studio. Internet, whatever that goes specifically for the studio. And basically you figure out, okay, I gotta make 9,200 a month. Which brings me to about 110 a year. Now we go down here and we start plugging in numbers here. So you're gonna plug in and on my spreadsheet you download, you actually have one more line for anything besides portraits and weddings, you can add additional jobs. And you can plug in the numbers. You can change your cost of goods and I'm gonna talk about this and what to plug in here later. So don't worry about that. But we start with 30 percent. Figure how many sessions. You plug in what you'll actually be charging and that will calculate out what you're gonna net and then that will calculate out what your total and that will calculate out what you're gonna make per month. All right. So what you, if this doesn't match what you need per month, this right here, then you start playing with these numbers. Either you gotta shoot more sessions. You gotta change your cost of goods. Or you gotta change the retail that you're actually charging for those things. And we will cover how to get to those prices later but does this make sense? Kind of how we're, we're just plugging in. So it's pretty cut and dried so you don't have to think about, well, should I charge this or charge that. It says, well, I gotta charge it. If I gotta be a business, I gotta charge this based on what I know I can shoot. And that tends to make it a little easier. Next step, "Act Big, React Small." What does that mean? You're gonna act like a big business but react like a small business. Because there's a beauty in both. A big business sets great examples for things like the importance of design, which we're gonna talk about. Design and your marketing. Your logo, your brand. That, if you look at the top grossing companies in the world, everybody uses Apple as an example. That's such a big part of our lives for some reason, but they are expensive, right? They're more expensive than any other stuff. Honestly, is their stuff a whole lot better than everybody else's? Mechanically, sometimes yes, sometimes not so much, but they are probably unarguably one of the best designed companies in the world. They put a ton. So we pay money because they have this solid, clean, beautiful design to all their products and we wanna have that, even if the mechanics of it is not that different than another knockoff brand. That's what a big company does. We as small companies can learn from that and we can put emphasis on our design and our presentation on the feel of us as a brand. We don't have to spend billions of dollars like Apple does. We can still have a great feeling brand with less. But that's important that you think about that. Experiment often. This is something that small businesses can do, which big businesses sometimes can't do is that we can try something, it doesn't work, we change, we modify, we adapt really quickly. That's important, because we don't have the money to waste to try something for five years to see if it works and change it again, no. That doesn't work today, we're gonna change it tomorrow and that's the beauty of a small business. So acting like a big business, reacting like a small business. So big and small. Big. You know your COGS. Your Cost of Goods Sold. We're gonna talk all about that later on. Big businesses, they know their numbers. Boom, to a penny. Usually. Sometimes they don't wanna tell you how much they know about that. You also price for profit. Sounds kinda elementary but you'd be surprised how many photographers, when we go through their workshop, at the end of the day, they cry, because they've actually punched in their numbers and they realized that they're not making any money. They're not profitable. And you're like did you not start with that in mind? No, they don't. Because we're artists. We're not number crunchers. Damaging. Big businesses that are successful operate with the utmost in professionalism, in customer service, in presentation and everything. The ones that do it right, you know them for their service and we can do that. Costs us nothing as small business to do that. Okay? To be small, like a small business, you can adjust quickly. We talk about that. You keep your overhead low so that you're not at much risk as the big businesses and you create these personal connections that are so crazy valuable to your business. The personal connection that you give is amazing. The big businesses rarely can do that and some of them are able to find a way to do that. Great example is Nestle or Nespresso. I don't know if any of you guys have ever used a Nespresso coffee machine. Do you have one of those? Do you love it?
Four times this morning. (laughing)
Oh my god, okay. I'm not sponsored by Nespresso or anything but I gotta tell you, I've had this Nespresso machine that I've had from Nestle. It's the most amazing little thing. It's this little capsule espresso machine maker. The coffee is the best. It really is. I mean, you go to the best coffee shops and now you're spoiled. Because I go to coffee shops, they're supposed to be good, and I realize the coffee is not very good because I've been drinking this Nespresso stuff. But the cool thing is, their customer service, I don't know if you've ever, have you ever called them yet for customer service? Okay so I've got like four of their machines, my office, my home and all over the place. I had one in my car that I took with me everywhere I went. It got stolen and I was very pissed! But I've had, you know, things like I don't clean the machine, so it gets stuck and I have to call them and something has happened. I've called at least four times and honestly nothing that has been bad on their half. Just user error. And their customer service is out of this world. It's just like, this person comes on, they care, they walk you through the process. They're so kind and polite. They stay with you until it's solved. I mean, they solve it and then they do something nice for you afterwards. And it's just amazing! It's such a great example of a big company, Nestle, having one-to-one personal customer service probably like nothing I've ever had. So I encourage you to buy a Nespresso machine, break it, and call them for help. Just so you can experience how good they are! All right. So we're gonna develop a business mantra. This is something that's gonna help you guide your business. Maybe some of you have done this, but here's what a mantra's all about. So mantra is for your clients. It's gonna define who you are in one sentence. We wanna keep it simple. Needs to move them, move you. So it's an emotional statement. You're gonna use feeling words, emotions, thoughtful things. Okay, I'll give you an example in a minute here. You wanna print it and put it everywhere so that you can see it and eventually, you're gonna wanna incorporate this into your marketing materials. Everything that you do and your client feels and sees. So couple of my mantras for my workshops. "Empowering Photographers." That's just the first line. "Empowering Photographers," is sort of my my guiding message for me and my customers as a workshop, a software company, everything I do has to empower you as a photographer. That's kind of what my vision is. If it doesn't make you feel empowered, then I don't wanna do it. It's not worth it. For my photography business, my mantra's always been, for a while anyway, "We see what you feel." To me, that came because that's what I wanna do. I wanna naturally capture their feelings somehow. I wanna be able to be so intuitive that I can see it and capture it, whatever they're feeling, whatever I happens to be. So that's been kind of my tagline, my mantra with my photography business for a long time. And we're gonna do another exercise later on that might help you clarify this, so maybe write down. You know, you guys are just sitting here. Just write down whatever's in your head. Nobody's gonna hold this to you. You're not gonna share it, but I want you to write down, could be two words, three words, short sentence, nothing more than a few words, whatever's coming into your head. You guys at home, you guys can do this too. Just write down two, three ideas that could be your mantra. And this is what you want your customers to feel and imagine this as a tagline underneath your logo, on your website, everywhere. Basically everything you put out there should have this little tagline. There's, think of some classic ones that are already out there.
Just do it.
Bam. They're probably the best well known one right. Just do it. That's a great tagline and see how everybody in the entire world recognizes that now? Because it's so perfect, it's so simple and it's so what they're all about. And that's what you wanna have for yours. Because you're gonna act big. That's what big companies do. Okay, so think about that. You can refine that over the day or whatever and you all, at the end of the day, you're gonna come up here and you're gonna do a little dance and you're gonna share your tagline. (laughing) Nah, just kidding. You don't have to do that. All right. Here's the next thing. Somebody told me this years and years ago and I at first didn't believe it, but very soon I realized it was true. If the client loves the photographer, they probably loves the images that you deliver. I see some heads nodding. You guys know what I'm talking about, right? If they have an amazing experience. They love you. Everything was great. It was fun. They felt taken care of, nurtured. Made to feel pretty, beautiful, handsome, whatever. The images, as long as you don't totally F up the images, I mean, you did a good job, they're probably gonna be pretty happy. Satisfied customers. Now if you are an amazing photographer and you do an excellent job on top of that, holy cow, watch out. You know. You're gonna be very successful if you mind the business stuff we're talking about. But I've found that to be very true so working on yourself, your interpersonal skills, your ability to come out of your shell and there's actually some really good cut and dried techniques you can use to make people feel comfortable with you and I'll share some books and things like that later but I actually have right here, "See the book list." At the end of this this program, there's a booklist with some books that I've used that have been really helpful for me as far as interpersonal relationships. And in a roundabout way and actually a very direct way I find that that is pretty critical to my success as a photographer in addition to, I can take a decent picture. But I feel like my clients have a great experience with me and that's really, really important. Okay. Next thing we're gonna talk about is specialization. Now this is a hot topic because a lot of people will say today, well, everything is so hard, I gotta do everything. I gotta do this and that to make ends meet and maybe. Sometimes that's the way you gotta roll. But I still believe that if you really want to be known, if you want your name to be known in your community, you have to be a specialist in something. And the beauty is that you can still do other things and the way it happened for me years ago when I was kinda starting, I was doing everything. Headshots, portraits, you know, model portfolios, cadavers, aerial photography, dogs, kittens, you know, monitor lizards, whatever, whatever you could put in front of my camera, I would take it. You know, and I would have my business card like, specialist. All these things you know. Bar Mitzvahs, non-Bar Mitzvahs. And then I realized, wait, who's gonna take me seriously for anything? You know? There's not a single famous person that you can probably name, in any kind of genre that is famous for doing everything well. They're famous for one thing. One type of music, one type of art, one type of photography, generally, right? Top photographers out there, you know them for what? Weddings or portraits or commercial. They very likely do all those other things on the side or still, so it doesn't mean you have to give up all the other things you like to do, but if you wanna get known and you wanna charge top dollar, you have to be a specialist. Just like you're not gonna go, if you got a brain tumor, you're not gonna do to a pediatrist. You're not gonna go to a general practitioner. You're gonna go to the brain tumor specialist that focuses on the left side and the right rear of the brain in this perfect cavity where you happen to have this thing. I don't wanna put those thoughts in your head. Let's talk about it! What have you got? You got... Haircut, you need a haircut right here. You want a certain kind of haircut. You go to a specialist. Okay. Generally be more successful as a specialist, than a generalist. And this really is true for all industries so that's what I would encourage you to try to focus towards, even if you feel like you gotta do everything to make ends meet right now, that's okay. Shoot whatever you want, but your branding, you should appear as a specialist in something. Okay. Let's also talk about our points of contact. And this is a great, you can download this checklist as a great starting point and one of the things I did when I opened up my studio, when I started bringing customers in, I started thinking about okay, so, when I go shopping, and think of a store that you love to go to. Could be a spa store or some shoe store or whatever it is, you got to the store, what it is, there's certain things that you always expect, that always kind of catch you, whether it's the smell. You know there's certain little spa stores in the mall and you have that smell and you're like, oh, that's Bed Bath and Whatever and that's So and So, my favorite other store and you know from the smell. Then you walk in and you know, there's that music and this is their theme, this feeling, you know. And then there's things, there's a certain type of woods on the floor. Everything's a point of contact. Think about every place your client has an opportunity to make an impression about you and your business as a point of contact and does that reflect in the proper way? All right? And we're gonna talk, this will all come full circle once we talk about refining who you are as a brand, because you're gonna apply that back in to all these things, but right now, think about these things and check them off when you go home, wherever your meeting area is. What I literally did is I walked down my driveway, this was when I had my home office, I started this exercise, and I would start from where the client parks the car. What do they see at my house? Oh, I realized when they parked here, my kids' bikes and junk was kind of hiding, sticking out over here. I gotta make sure they don't put their stuff there anymore. So it's nice, clean. They walk up the stairs. What do they feel walking up the stairs? There's a doorway separating from the business. My logo's on the door. And then I said, what do they do? You grab the doorknob. What do you feel like you get into a nice car, you close the door, what do you hear and feel? Make a sound. Good car. You can do it, guys. Make a sound. (laughing) (making car sounds) I'm closing the door of a really nice car right now.
It's a really good car so it doesn't make a sound.
Well, no, it goes (makes car sound). Ka-chunk. And it's solid, right? All right, so now I'm closing the door of a really crappy car. It's an old Yugo. Nothing wrong with Russian. It's Yugoslavian.
Yugo is Yugoslavian.
Yugoslavian, sorry. You're not even in this. (laughing) She's Russian, so. I was like, I don't wanna bash Russian cars, but it's Yugoslavian, so it's a little, it's different. So Yugo, make the sound for the Yugo. (making car sounds) There, perfect, right. (making crazy car sounds) Right? That sound of the door, that feeling of the handle leaves you an impression. So I can do it with my eyes closed. I can close the Mercedes door. Boom, oh, this is a nice car. I can close the Yugo door. (making crazy car sounds) Ow, something fell on my foot. This is a Yugo, right? I know by the feel of that handle whether I'm getting into quality or crap. And so I applied that to my door handle at my studio. I put one of those big, heavy antique things where they grab the handle and they ka-chunk, to open that door. The other doors are like rattling and falling off, but that one, ka-chunk. That door feels good. So they open the door, first thing they do is, there's a waft of aromatics, because my wife uses those little oil diffusers and it's like this ooh, smells like a spa and there's nice, soft music coming from all over because I have speakers up in the corners so it has this ambiance of this beautiful music. And they (gasping), they walk in, and ooh, it's like a spa and you hear, Wow. And then we run with hot towels. No. (laughing) Then there's beautifully lit pictures on the walls and the whole experience, before I even say hello, they're like, Damn, this is quality. And I didn't spend a whole lot of money right there. The doorknob. What does a good doorknob cost? I don't know. Ka-chunk. Steal it from somebody else's door. Just take it off, put it on, whatever. Do it on the cheap, but think about these points of contact because that's where you wanna spend a little bit of effort, money, on the points of contact. So then I started thinking about, okay, so the client comes in, they sit down on a chair. Their chair has to be the best, most expensive chair in the place. Not my chair. Their chair. So when they sit down, I have these nice, leather, cozy chairs and the client sits in and they go, and they fall back and I can see them just caressing the leather arms of the chair. If you're anti animal stuff you can do like fuzzy, fake fur, whatever. It's cool. As long as it feels good. And they're like ooh, this feels good. And I can see them just kinda, even recline. The dudes will come in and kinda recline the chair. And then, you know, of course, we're gonna talk more about this in the sales process but everything they touch, the pen that they sign with. Anybody here have the unfortunate experience of going to a lawyer and going into their office to sign something. Generally, in a good lawyer's office, their pen, you pick it up, it's like one of those solid, nice heavy pens and you're signing it and you're like I can tell by this, it's gonna be expensive. Just by the feel of this pen. Think about it, right? So do you have this beautiful pen for them to fill out forms and contracts? Or do you give them like a crappy, old BIC plastic pen? Everything your client touches, everything they initially see, smell, is a point of contact and that's where you put effort and money into. Not a lot of money, but something. So here's, here's a list. You can go through all of these and just think about it. How does that affect your client's impression? Because end of the day, you're only good as your weakest point of contact. Like they always say you're only as a good as your last photoshoot. That's your legacy. That's what you left. So think of that. What's your weakest point of contact? If everything is great, but at that last minute, your kid comes running in with a dirty diaper and poops over the floor in your studio, that's the impression they're gonna be left with. All the other stuff gets washed now. Nothing wrong with kids and dirty diapers. Questions.
You're gonna cover a lot more about, I know, COGS coming up a little bit later. I don't know if this is the right time for this, Kevin, but we do have a question wanting to know, at what moment did you know that you were ready to actually go out there and do a tax ID and move, you know, and really do it all just full blast?
For me, it was pretty obvious. The question was, but at what moment do you know? When is the time to make that jump? I, when I started my photography business, I was in between, I'd started as a multi-level marketing job because I thought I was gonna get rich really quick. I was wrong. That flopped real quick 'cause I'm sitting at home, basically, with no job, no money. I didn't wanna go back to Nordstroms. I wanna to start my own thing so I immediately, almost immediately decided, I'm gonna try photography. I love it. I already know how to do it a little bit, so I'm gonna make it as business. So it's kind of like, overnight I just started to figure out how to do this but I think, as soon as you start to really charge money, you kind of have to be a business, you know? You can do a few side jobs under the table and just get paid cash or whatever, but eventually, you're gonna have to claim that money and you're gonna have to be a legitimate business. So I think as soon as you are starting to actually get paid, you should set up some sort of business. And you can have a business even if it's a side business. Doesn't have to be your full-time business, but you still wanna be legitimate because even a business that operates 10 hours a week, if you're collecting money from people and delivering a product then you have certain responsibilities now. And one of that is to be legal. Get your ducks in a row. All right, yes.
You had talked about specializing and I'd like to specialize, but right now I'm taking everything under the sun, almost because I feel like I have to keep posting and I, like, on my Facebook or putting something up on my website, but I'm all over the place rather than specializing so how do you, if you're not getting the business right away in the area you wanna be in, how do you keep yourself kinda in the presence of, you know, people? Like, trying to get their attention or trying to, hey, I'm still here, don't forget me kinda thing?
What do you wanna specialize in?
I would like to do more women, glamor portraits, seniors.
Okay, so, sometimes if you're not getting enough of those jobs, you have to kinda start to show what you want to specialize in, so eventually you're gonna have to start to transition to showing that. And only that.
I do, I post a lot of seniors but I have now lots of babies, lots of families, lots of everything. Real estate, you know. It's just whatever.
Right, and those, you wanna focus on the seniors. So that's why you need to start posting only that.
Only that, okay.
And if you don't have a lot of that, you need to just go and shoot products. Create promotionals. I'll give you some ideas later on today, too, but a good friend of mine, she's a fantastic senior photographer and she did exactly what you're saying. She decided, I really love seniors. Senior girls, in fact. She really narrowed it down. Senior girls is my thing. That's what she wants to do. And she still does family. She still does an occasional wedding. She does senior guys. And all that, but all she markets to is senior girls and her business has gone through the roof with senior girls, but she does that by focusing every bit of marketing on senior girls, and my point of that was she creates promotions, like mini-sessions that you can go and get 10 girls shot in one afternoon, you know. We'll keep talking about that too in the pricing and all that sort of stuff. But a mini-session is a great way to get a bunch of stuff for your portfolio, get your word out there. It may not be a huge money maker initially, but it's gonna lead to a lot of other good stuff. So that's one of the things to do. If you have to go out there and just shoot for free to get some really cool portfolio stuff, along with what you wanna do, but keep showing that and eventually, that's what's gonna start coming to you. Yeah.
If you're working out of a home studio and it has a long way to go before the ka-chunk door, what are some of the things that you would prioritize first from the big list?
Of the points of contact? You still wanna run through it and if you're say, like you're meeting on the dining room table on your house kind of thing, I had to really, I hated that, honestly because I had to make sure the house was clean that the kids didn't run in and disturb everything and they didn't smell like burnt bacon when they walked in and you still have to go through all those processes within the confines of what you have to work with. Maybe you can't afford to change the doorknob yet. That's okay. Maybe leave the door open when they come home so they don't have to touch it. But there's still little things you can do in the house to make sure, or hide the stuff that you don't think is representative. And it is a pain, and one way is to say, well, just, it is what it is, bring 'em in but the bottom line is that will affect your ability to grow because they're always gonna have that perception of you as you know, I'm not saying you are but a messy home person. Well, if their home is messy how is their produce delivery? How is their product packaging? How is their attention to detail in the photoshoot gonna be? All that forms impressions, right? So you have to kind of work your way towards whatever it is you want, but you can do the best with what you have. That's all you can do. Any others, yeah.
Yeah, in regards to social media, like Facebook.
(laughs) Um, would you start over with, let's say, so and so photography and just let the old one go or run 'em both at the same time? Have a personal one and mention having your personal one being up to par as well? How would you approach that.
You wanna start a Facebook business page for your business and then you keep your personal one personal. But you still have to be aware that whatever you post in your personal is gonna reflect, because people will look at both. You know, that's sort of like the unfortunate reality. Like employers, they look at Facebook pages when they think about hiring people nowadays. And they'll look and see what kind of crazy stuff they got on there. If it looks like they're weird party animals and they're into crazy stuff, that could reflect weird even if they had a perfect interview, they're still gonna look at that and make decisions, partially based on what they find on their personal life because that reflects on who they are. So you do have to kind of keep them separate. I definitely would keep them separate. Have a business page. Facebook business page. All your business stuff goes there. That's totally professional, beautiful, whatever and then there's your personal page where you can still do all your fun stuff, but be careful now because no you're posting your personal page. All your political ranting and you know, crazy stuff and your F this and F that, and you know, all that crazy stuff, they're gonna see that. Your clients will see that. And so that's something you gotta decide where you're gonna be. Is it more important to you to just be who you are in your page or if it potentially kills a lot of customers from ever talking to you or do you feel like, you know, I can be a globally good person on my normal page and my business page is separate.