How to Rapidly Grow Your Photography Business
Let's talk about how to rapidly grow your business. Set a foundation, how do you grow it? The concept that kind of came to me awhile ago was called "Absolute Business Control," "ABCs." And really, it comes down to this: The A being, you need to ascertain, assimilate, or acknowledge, in other words you have to say, "This is where I am, and this is honestly where it's at." A lot of us won't acknowledge where we are at. OK? So you need to be honest, that's part of why we did this evaluation at the beginning of the class here. "Honestly, here's where I'm at, here's where I'm weak, I know this and I accept this, now I can move forward." Alright, so that's the first step. The next, B: is be proactive. You gotta begin. There is no tomorrow, as far as you know there is no tomorrow, so what can you do today when you go home from this class? What's the first little thing you can do? Doesn't matter what it is, it can be one little thing, it can be writing down your mantra, if you do something tod...
ay at the end of the day when you go home, you're a success, OK? But if you go home and do nothing, well, chances are you're gonna slide into that procrastination and never get where you wanna go. Or, it will take you longer, I don't want to say that. Never gonna say never. C: collect counsel, that's what you're doing right now, that's what you should do for your entire life and career is ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask for help. That, honestly, has been one of my biggest problems. I like to do it all myself, I like to feel like I can do this, you know, I'm gonna figure it out, I wanna be able to do it, me me me, wah wah wah, it's like my son! He's very "Agh I'm gonna do this MYSELF." Him learning to walk, I have a video of him learning to walk, my 18-year-old now, when he learned to walk, it was the funniest thing cuz he got up, I'm in the kitchen and I see him in the living room and he's like "Eerr," and he gets on the table, "Eerr," he gets up and he's like "Aaaaaah!" (laughter) And he comes charging over and he crashes to the floor, and I'm going to help him and he's like, "No! Get away!" He gets up again and goes, "Aaaah!" (laughter) It was the funniest thing, and my wife and I were just laughing and laughing, because he would not take help, he had to do it himself, and he did! But as you get older, you realize, asking for help is A-OK, and it's important, OK? So remember those three things when you start working on your business. Next is Rapid Development. Talked a little bit about this in the idea of being a small business, what does a small business do? It reacts quickly, right? And I learned this from developing software, and this actually applies to a lot of other industries as well, and in software there's kind of a rapid development mindset where you release early, fix often, have you heard that before in software? That's why we get buggy software when it first comes out, cuz their idea is get it out there, let people tell you what's wrong with it, and then fix it as quick as you can and release a better version, and let people tell you what's wrong with it, and get it... So they're letting people help them develop a better product rapidly through this cycle of rapid development. On the other side, software companies that generally fail is that they try to get everything perfect, like they wait two years to release something, because they gotta get it just right, and they release it, and they find out the customers don't even like half of the features. They're like, "Crap, we just spent two years developing this and nobody even likes these features, now we gotta go back to the drawing board again and redevelop." And that's just a losing proposition, OK? So, think about the software, yourself can be a software developer, release early, fix often. Bottom line means it doesn't have to be perfect, but you gotta be willing to change it as soon as you realize you can and there's a better way. That make sense? It's better to put something out there and then get feedback from your customers, "Hey I don't know why this package is on there, it doesn't make sense to me." And you're like oh, yeah you're right, that's stupid, and take it off, change it for tomorrow, you know? And I did that when I was first starting my business. This was back in the day, OK, this might tell you something, when laser printers were pretty exciting. That I could actually print, from my computer, my own price list whenever I wanted! I was like, "Oh my god! This is the future. You could print whatever you want, whenever you want, wow!" So I would make price lists, and I'd have a client come in, and we'd sit down and go over, the wedding client, we'd go over the prices and da-da-da-da-da, and they might say, "Oh well, this package is actually a better deal but it's over here and that doesn't make sense to me." And I'd be like, "She's right." "I meant do do that, yeah, but, look over here!" at a distraction, "Look at my cat! My cat's so cute," Whoosh, slide that off the table. So, as soon as she was gone I'd go back into my computer, change it, modify the price list, print it out again, and the bottom right corner, just like version numbers for software, I'd put V-1, V-2, V-3, just a little tiny thing, barely notice it, cuz I had to keep track, and when their contract was signed I would put in the contract the "37.5" or whatever version they actually signed off on, so I would remember, cuz I had no, honestly, I was up to V-112 or something by the time I finally settled on a price list that worked. But I would literally do that after every session, if there's anything that I thought didn't really work as soon as they were gone I'd go and change it and print out a new one, so the next person that came in got the new price list and we'd try that, and I'd see how that worked. And that's OK to do. There is no law that I've seen anywhere that says that you, as a photographer, have to show the same price list to everybody for the rest of your life. There's no law says you have to give the same price list to Sally, not that your name is Sally, but pretend you're Sally, and your sister comes in to get married three months later and says, "I want to hire you too, I want the same prices Sally got." There's no law that says I have to give her the same deal or same price I gave her. My prices will most likely be different three months later when the next sister comes in, and they're gonna get that price list, and I'm like, "Oh, this is what I'm using now." I mean, you can do that. People always ask that, so-and-so I shot their wedding five years ago, and I want the same price and the same package, and you're like, "I don't offer that, sorry, my business changed." OK? (laughter) You need professional help, this is true. Part of the "Collect," ABC, is "collect help." One of the most valuable things I learned as a business starting out was to reach out. When I first moved to Bend I joined a local business group. It wasn't necessarily like a leads group, have you heard of those? Where you go for the purpose of sharing your lead information, it wasn't like that, it was a business support group, and it's unique to central Oregon, it's called "Opportunity Knocks," but if you can find something like that in your area, I think it's awesome, so awesome. Because there's a bunch of other business owners, generally the same kind of home business, small business, could be anything in town, and basically you go and you brainstorm, you come with a problem, "I have this problem." And everybody says here's how we're gonna help you fix it. And then the next month you go back to your meeting, you're like, "Hey here's what I did to fix it." They'll ask you, "What did you do to fix it?" "Here's what I did to fix it." Great, next person has a problem and you work on that, and they really coach you, it's a pretty cool kind of set-up. If you don't have that you can form your own. I had a group once called the "Vulcan Mind Meld" where I had people, photographers, creative people come to my office, and we just would have a day, we'd block it out, save it, let's hash it out, what are we dealing with, what problems, what issues, what challenges, what's beautiful in your life, what's working, what's not working, and we'd just spend the whole day brainstorming ideas and things together, and so much good stuff came out of that. Haven't done one in awhile, I keep getting calls from my friends, "When are we doing the next mind meld? When's the next mind meld?" People want to do it because it's valuable for everybody, and it costs you nothing, maybe some drinks, to organize this, you can do it at a coffee shop, a library, but you, because now you guys are the privileged ones, need to start this, K? Nobody's gonna reach out to you and say, "Hey come join my mind meld." You gotta do it. You be the leader. I don't know if you guys saw my Facebook live, real quick story, when I first moved to town in Bend, one of my favorite little anecdotes, when I first moved to Bend from L.A. I was brand new to small towns so I called all the photographers in town and went to the phone book, cuz we weren't on the internet yet, went through the phone book, just looked em all up, and I called them and I left a message saying, "Hey this is Kevin, I'm in town, da-da-da, I'm new, love to get together, share some ideas, show you what I'm doing, see what you're doing, maybe we can work together, whatever." Out of everybody I called, must have been 20 or 30 photographers in my local area, one called me back, one guy. Like, "Alright, I got one!" We go down to Barnes and Noble, and I went there and I had my wedding album with me, and I'm sitting there waiting, you know, at the table, and he comes in and he's like, "Kevin?" And I'm like, "Yeah!" My picture. And he walks up to the table, I'm sitting at the table, he walks up, doesn't sit down, like, "Hey, how you doing?" He starts looking through my album. And he goes, "Oh, that'll never work here in Bend." "That's kind of L.A." "Yeah, that's not gonna work here." And he made some more small talk and he never sat down, and was like, "Well, I gotta go now," and he leaves. And I'm sitting there going, "Oh what did I get myself into, in this town," you know? And, instead of getting pissed and whatever, I decided I'm gonna start a photographers' association and I'm gonna start sharing with everybody everything I know. So I started Central Oregon Photographers' Association shortly thereafter, and I invited all these photographers who didn't return my phone call to come to my studio and I would give a presentation and tell them everything I knew about photography, well not everything, but everything I could in half an hour, and it really changed the whole environment to where now all my friends are photographers in my town. And that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't of just taken the step to do it. And you guys have taken the step to be here, you guys can take the step to be the leaders in your photography community, no matter where you're at, hobbyist or full pro. OK, that was a long-winded explanation of this whole thing but the next thing is outsourcing. Outsourcing is really important, especially for small business cuz I don't want you... as a small business one of the mistakes we can make is to try to do everything ourselves. Everything meaning doing our own taxes, designing your own logo, building your own website. If you're not an expert in those things do not attempt to do them all yourself. There are ways, you can go online, I don't always recommend it, but there are a lot of these online sources for say design, logo designs, and I've had some photographers from my class who've gone where you bid like 49 bucks or something, and you get designs submitted from all these designers all over the world, and some of them are pretty damn good. Sometimes they're not really on track, like it's not gonna make sense, but the designs are good. So that's one way. Or you can hire a designer and give them your direction which we'll talk about. So this is really important, I can't stress how much, I made this mistake when I was starting out, trying to do everything myself until I finally broke down and started to figure out that I was not an expert in everything. That was part of the A, admitting and acknowledging I'm not an expert, I'm a photographer, I'm a good people person, I'm happy meeting with people, I can do sales, I can do the shoots, I can create, I'm not good at doing taxes. I was a pretty decent designer, and I actually had a design business for awhile, but I still turned over my design to a professional committed designer. So, a lot of things we can outsource. And the reason we outsource is the whole concept of success that's repeated many times in many industries, is that success is gonna come from surrounding yourself, it's not doing it all yourself, it's surrounding yourself with the right people, OK? Who you hang with determines your success, that's been proven over and over again. If you're hanging with downer people you're gonna be depressed most of the time. If you hang with uplifted, positive people you're probably gonna be an uplifted, positive, person yourself, eventually, it'll rub off on you. Same with success. Anybody have questions? You guys had, you had one earlier that we didn't get to.
Yeah I was wondering about if you only have a location business and you don't have a studio, and you like...
Like a home office?
No, you go to someone's house and do your sales.
Oh OK, yeah, that's great, you can do that, and I actually have several photographers who I know who have done really well with that model, where you go to their house for example, to do an in-house presentation, that model can actually be turned into a very specialized, hand hold, couture, to use fancy words, kind of a feeling, because you're giving them extra special service, and it also makes them feel a little more committed to you when you've made the effort to go to their house, but you're still, your presentation, whatever you carry in, OK, for example, I had this woman friend of mine, photographer, who, she would do that, and so she set up in this nice little portable screen, it would pop up like that, she found one that she could get, it was a little carry case, so she would actually take that, pop it up in 30 seconds, she had her laptop, and a little projector, and she would do a slideshow in their home, anyplace. But it all carried, like she could carry it all in her shoulder bag, and this little screen, so she would go to their house, she'd go there, she'd set it up, she'd bring whatever she needed to make a beautiful presentation in their home. And it's also great, are you doing portraiture?
So the great thing about going to their home is now you can look at their walls, you can look at the style of their design, you can look at existing photography, and you can already start planting sales thoughts, cuz you can look at their wall and go, "Oo, a big old picture of your kids' faces right there, imagine that, a giant black-and-white, your kids' cutie mug right there on the wall. Let's plan on that for our shoot! And she'll be like, "Oh yeah! That'd be great! Cool." So you can actually do really well with that. Sometimes if you need a neutral place to meet, you know, people say, oh, meet at the coffee shop, we'll meet at whatever, it's hit and miss with that. Because a coffee shop can be a distracting environment and it doesn't always pan out the way you want, but sometimes you can use, there's offices, like we have offices in our building that we rent out desk space on a chair basis, so you could, say, find a local chaired office, or common meeting room where you just pay 100 bucks a month or whatever, and you can go down there a few times a month and use it. That's sometimes a good option as well.
We got some great ones from the internet, Kevin, sort of going back through this whole segment. So this first one I think is pretty interesting, "If you're transitioning from one specialization to another how do you effectively do that without looking like you're flip-flopping or like you failed in another area?" (laughter)
I don't think, yeah, I think transitioning, I wouldn't look at it as a failure as long as the transitional work is good. So, I guess the question would be, for this person, out there in the internet world, do you already have a good, solid portfolio of this new type of work, you're ready to launch into it, in that case, you can almost just launch it as a new business, redesign everything, repurpose everything, make it look like the way you want it to look and the other clients, they'll probably still call you, and that's kind of the beauty of that, you can still, say, if you shot food photography, for example, and now you wanna do portraiture, you're done with food, but you don't mind it and it's good money, but you really, you want to go towards so you change everything and your whole identity now is the portraiture, and you gotta get some good portfolio pieces on there, and you start marketing to that, you start a new business, but your food clients will still call you, right? And that's fine. Take those jobs, shoot em, make the money, you enjoy it, great. But keep your marketing focused completely now on that new portrait business.
[Audience Member 2] Do you suggest rebranding, then?
So just, completely changing...
If appropriate, if for some reason you're going from weddings to portraiture or something that's pretty close, you might be able to reuse a lot of your brand, and that could be a nice lead-in, because you don't have to lose one or the other, they connect, you know? But if it's something like from food to portraiture, it's completely different, another example, babies to boudoir. (laughter) Not a lot of carry over there, hahaha, so that, in that case, a rebrand might be more important, especially, the boudoir is more sensitive, you don't wanna connect say senior photography and boudoir, you don't want anybody to ever think there's a cross, any kind of mix, between those two, not a good mix at all. So, I would completely cut, separate your businesses, in that case, but, like I said, portraits to weddings, fine, seniors to family portraiture, fine. Even pets to people, different but still is portraiture, you know, so you could transition, unless your logo is all about pets and everything else, but yeah, reuse what you can if you built a strong brand and awareness, and that carries over nicely, then why not? Use it.
Along the same line, Kevin, from Sveta, if you specialize but you are willing to take any job do you still only have that specialization on your website? You just keep that on your website?
I think generally that should be the focus of your website, now, you might have sub-galleries, like I do have a fine art gallery on my website and I know you, I've looked at your website cuz we're gonna shred you apart later on, no, I'm just kidding. (laughter) She's got a beautiful website, and she's got an art gallery and also her portrait gallery, and that's kind of what I've done for the years, but the main focus when they come to my site is gonna be a certain thing, or they should come and say, OK, she's a wedding photographer, or he's a portrait photographer, and then they dig deeper like, "Wow, look, he's got a really cool creative eye as just an artist." That's how I hired my wedding photographer actually, when I got married 25 years ago next year, Whoop Whoop! I went to all the wedding photographers in town and I was already a photographer so I was very picky, and they all pretty much looked the same, and I got to one guy and as a wedding photographer he was really good, it wasn't head and shoulders above the others but when I went to his studio he had on the wall, fashion, surfing photography, really cool fashion, surfing, and fine arts stuff, and then I started to see that fashion flare in his wedding work too, and I'm like, "Man, this guy's an artist, that's what I want on my wedding day." I want a guy who might say, "I don't even want you guys in the picture because there's a beautiful sunset that I need to capture." And that's cool with me because I want beautiful images for my wedding day and I don't care if I'm in all of them. That reflected really powerfully on me, and I hired him, and it was the best thing I did cuz we made friends and it started my career, and blablabla, so, the question was, should you focus, yes, to make it, even if you do the other things, make it obvious you're a wedding photographer, that's your specialty, and then have these other things kind of trailing into it on the side.