A little while back, I talked about the idea of failure being necessary for eventual success. Today’s topic is about what we can do if and when we face almost certain absolute failure – a horrific situation no business owner wants to experience.
Thing is, no one is immune.
Not long after I started my wedding and portrait photography business in Memphis, back in 2004, I was introduced to a man who actually laughed quite hard when he heard what I was doing for a living.
A little disturbed, I asked him what he thought was so funny about being a professional photographer, and he told me he used to be one, but gave it up as a bad way to earn a living.
He then proceeded to tell me a joke:
What’s the difference between a pizza and a professional photographer?
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“A pizza can feed a family of four,” he said, and we both started laughing.
Months later, the joke came back to haunt me when I realized my business was in big trouble and it couldn’t support a family of one, let alone four.
I wasn’t laughing then, I can tell you.
Fortunately for me, I came across the well-known photography mentor Charles Lewis, whose no-nonsense approach and advice saved my business at the time.
Fast-forward to the present, and I now find myself in the mentor’s shoes, helping photographers simplify their marketing so they can focus on their creative purpose.
The idea for this installment came about after yet another back-and-forth discussion with a photographer who had reached the dreaded point in her business where absolute failure was no longer just a possibility – it had now become a clear and imminent danger.
It’s the “pizza vs. professional photographer” scenario all over again.
Having struggled on her own for months against a rising tide of challenges, the photographer I was talking to finally realized the need for help, but was now in the unfortunate position of having no money left for marketing, educational resources, or even to hire a coach like myself to help guide her back into calmer waters.
Her plea was quite simple:
Is there any way at all I can save my photography business with hardly any money?
This is a tough question, but I know a LOT of photographers are dealing with this very problem every day, and many of them end up calling it quits and closing the doors, which is a crying shame when you consider the wonderful talent being lost in the process.
Surely there’s something you can do?
As it happens, there is…
Can You Save A Failing Photography Business With No Money?
Is your photography business heading for disaster? Don't panic! Even if you have little or no money, there are still ways to save it - here's how...
Money Is The Life Blood Of Any Business
Before we go much further, there’s one inescapable truth we should face:
Money is the life blood of your photography business. Without positive cash flow (that is, more money coming in than leaving) your business will slowly bleed to death. Money obviously comes from sales, but we can’t make sales without investing in marketing and other business activities.
Money is the oil that keeps the machinery running smoothly.
Take away the money, and things quickly start to get rough.
Obviously, then, you can’t expect to run a business on a day-to-day basis without money. But can you save a failing business where the flow of money has been bled almost dry?
As it happens, I believe you can.
Rule #1: Don’t Panic!
If your business is at imminent risk of going under for good, your primary goal should be to stem the bleeding and limit further damage, with the simple objective of keeping it alive to fight another day.
In short, you’re in survival mode.
But fighting for survival doesn’t mean you should also panic!
In fact, just like a real survival situation, panic is the one thing to avoid because a panicked mind is far less capable of making informed and rational decisions!
A panicked mind is the one that runs screaming into the jungle only to be eaten alive by whatever monster lurks there.
So, as hard as it might be, try to keep a positive attitude, take things slowly, and carefully consider every decision before committing yourself to a course of action that may later prove disastrous.
It may help to step away from the business altogether, even for just a short time, to allow you the space you need to organize your thoughts and put things in the right perspective.
Stop The Bleeding And Control Your Cash Flow
The best starting point is to focus on cash flow to get a handle on what’s going on. Cash flow is made up of two opposing factors:
- Money generated from sales…
- Money leaving the business via running costs, expenses, and the cost of goods sold…
Most people in a potential failure situation immediately look at reducing costs, and the first casualties usually include business education, marketing and advertising.
But – looking to cut costs first may actually be a BIG mistake!
Surely, it makes sense to shut off expenses to retain whatever small amount of money there is in the business?
Well, yes and no.
The thing is, a dying business is more often the result of ineffective marketing, a lack of clients, and poor sales, rather than overspending.
Therefore, the knee-jerk reaction to immediately cut back on all expenses may provide a false sense of relief, but it fails to address the real problem, which is insufficient revenue.
Increasing Revenue: The First Line Of Defense
So, instead of cutting costs right away, try focusing on revenue-generating issues and opportunities first.
- Take a cold hard look at your prices and your costs of sales. Are you making a healthy profit from each sale? If not, perhaps your margins are too low, in which case you might want to adjust your packages or raise your prices.
- Are you giving away too much in the form of free incentives? For example, including prints as part of a photography session not only costs you money and creates more unpaid work, it can also devalue your photography and cannibalize add-on sales.
- Examine your lead-generation process from start to finish to identify the weak areas where valuable prospects might be leaking. This requires a firm grip on your website analytics and other metrics, such as your closing rate in sales meetings.
- Get in touch with your existing clients (I hate calling them past clients, since there’s no such thing in a well-run business). Present them with a simple and appealing offer designed to bring in money quickly. This might be something like a mini-session, or additional products created from past sessions or assignments. Put your imagination and creativity to work here.
- This may also be a time to engage in some “emergency marketing”, but don’t allow panic to lead you into ill-conceived plans that may actually cause you to sink even further. You may not feel like you have the money to spare, but investing a small amount into a well-thought out strategic Facebook ad campaign, for example, could make a big difference.
Eliminating Unnecessary Costs
After looking at the income side of the cash flow equation, it’s time to turn your attention to the outgoing side, and you might be able to save some money on unnecessary expenses or lower production costs.
A word of caution here, though.
Don’t make the mistake of eliminating expenses related to bringing in new business, such as effective marketing. Doing so will only make things worse in the long run. By all means look at cutting back or eliminating marketing that consistently fails to bring in new clients, but be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater!
Focus on your ongoing business education, too. From my own personal experience, I know that coaches and mentors would be the absolute last expense to get cut if I were in this position again. Their expertise, support, know-how, and guidance are simply too valuable to let go of except as a last resort.
6 Things You Can Do TODAY For Free
Dealing with a failing photography business is no fun for anyone, and has the potential to cause collateral damage well beyond the confines of the business itself – for example, many a personal relationship has suffered badly as a result of such things.
If you find yourself in this unfortunate position, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of times for you, and there are things you can do that will cost nothing more than some time and effort.
After all, time is something you probably have plenty of if the business is struggling, right?
Here are 6 examples that come to mind:
- Develop a new photography business plan. After all, the existing one (if you have a plan) isn’t working at all, so you might as well scrap it and start over. There’s no need to go all “corporate and formal” on it – the simpler it is, the more likely you are to follow it and stick to it. Think in terms of “lean and fast” here.
- Spend time to identify and get to know your ideal clients. You should be able to describe your target clients in extreme detail, not just their demographic, so do your research to uncover the things they respond best to and resonate with. Those are things you can use in your marketing.
- Likewise, build productive relationships with your most valuable business allies. Approach such relationships with a “give first” mentality, and you’ll find yourself rewarded well in the future.
- Read blogs and listen to podcasts, like this one. Devour every piece of marketing information you can lay your hands on, and pay particular attention to anything that comes from outside the industry.
- Filter the information you learn carefully to suit you and your business. Just because a strategy or tactic worked for someone else does not necessarily mean it will also work for you, and vice versa. Pay no attention whatsoever to other photographers who claim such and such doesn’t work, especially if they’re in the same dark place you are. This is perhaps the most difficult thing to master, and it can help tremendously to seek out a coach or mentor to help look at things more objectively.
- Most importantly, you should future-proof your business to reduce the chances of falling into this same situation again further on down the road. How do you do that? The best way, by far, is to start building an email list of interested prospects, clients, and business partners. Then communicate with the people on your list regularly to nurture and grow those relationships. Remember, successful businesses are built on solid relationships.
Above All Else – DON’T Give Up!
If you are struggling with this challenge right now, and you feel like throwing in the towel – PLEASE DON’T!
I know it may feel like you’ve exhausted all the options but I assure you that you haven’t – you’re just not aware of the answers lurking in your blind spot.
Need some inspiration? Check out what these professional photographers have to say about their passion for photography:
If you do give up now, think of all the future clients you could have served with your photography who will be forced to find someone else – someone who may not see them in quite the same way you could have.