It ought to be more than obvious that making a successful business out of anything, including photography, takes hard work.
A lot of hard work.
Ask any professional photographer what their day was like, and they’ll undoubtedly say something like, “Man, I’m SO busy, it’s a wonder I have any time to do any photography…”
When pressed on what they were actually busy doing, things get a little less clear…
- Checking emails…
- Updating Facebook…
- Scanning Twitter…
- Tweaking the website…
- And a whole ton of stuff that has little or nothing to do with marketing or getting clients…
We all lie to ourselves about how busy we are because it’s the only way we can justify to ourselves (and others) our actual lack of progress.
Success Takes Hard Work
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work…
But, every day, great opportunities pass you by like a ship sneaking past in the night.
Do you do anything to seize them?
Now I’m not picking on you personally because this is such a widespread problem.
For example, you probably know with 100% certainty that what you’ve been doing so far to market yourself has NOT worked.
More than likely, you’ve been doing the same things over and over again forever, in the vain hope that something will give and you’ll get a lucky break.
Not going to happen.
But while you’ve been doing those things, awesome opportunities to learn new strategies have appeared on your radar trying to get your attention, and then faded away when you chose to ignore them.
Worse, you may have considered trying one (for example, to build an effective lead-generation system), and quickly abandoned the idea because it felt too different or too hard and the lure of the easy things everyone else is doing proved too irresistible.
The photography industry is in a state of CRISIS, but not because of all the excuses most photographers use to complain about the sorry state it’s in.
The problem is photographers becoming lazy and expecting their photography to sell itself, or that the latest new marketing gizmo is going to fix everything without them having to actually do anything.
Newsflash: This is a BUSINESS, not a hobby where people pay you money just for taking nice pictures.
Yes, I know that it can often be difficult to know what to do, or which way to go on your journey to business success.
There are so many choices and decisions that you face every day, and not all of them will be of great benefit, even if they do look “nice and shiny“.
The trouble is, how do you know which decisions are right for you?
One answer is to use the advantage of higher ground to look down and survey the big picture of your business…
The Challenge of Perspective
As a business owners, you know how it feels to be caught up in multitude of day-to-day tasks needed to run a photography studio.
Sometimes, it seems you have a million things to do at once, many of which might be urgent, but not particularly important in the achievement of our overall business goals.
However, if those jobs don’t get done, then the business suffers.
Then there are the inevitable fires to put out, and occasional unexpected and unwelcome surprises to deal with.
All of this creates quite a problem, especially if you work on our own.
The challenge is to force yourself to take a step back (or climb up to higher ground), so you can see the bigger picture to determine if you’re moving in the direction you want to go.
Taking the time to get a bird’s eye view of your business is a valuable exercise.
The question remains, though: How do we do this?
What practical suggestions can I offer the majority of photographers out there who have difficulty even finding time to take a lunch break?
Defining Success For The Professional Photographer
How do we measure success?
As far as I know there’s no ruler or gauge we can use to measure it. Do we wake up one day and suddenly find ourselves successful?
Are there varying degrees of success? If so, where’s the point at which a higher degree of failure becomes a lesser degree of success?
Perhaps this is a “half-full” versus “half-empty” type of question.
Some people might measure their success by the amount of money in the bank, others by the achievement of awards or the attainment of goals.
Others count themselves successful if they’re living life on their own terms.
Is being successful the same as being happy or content?
Partial Success Is Not An Option
In July 1969, NASA launched Apollo 11 on a successful mission to the moon.
There was no possibility of partial success in that case, only absolute success or failure.
Making it halfway to the moon did not constitute a quarter-successful mission.
Neither did landing on the moon itself, although that was certainly a major milestone.
Success only came when Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins made splashed down in the ocean upon their safe return.
President Kennedy defined the expected terms of the mission’s success in his own words in 1961:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth
In other words, the Apollo 11 mission could only be said to be a success when the goals had been met.
Perhaps we can learn something from this as professional photographers in our own business if we consider the following question:
How can you hope to be successful if you don’t define the goals and objectives you need to meet?
What goals will you set for yourself and your business?
What will define your own success?
The answers to these questions could reveal the uniqueness of you and your specific business — the same uniqueness that separates you from the other photographers in your area.
Are you ready to launch your own Apollo program with its own goals and commitments?
The Seven Stepping Stones
While I don’t profess to have all the answers (far from it), here are seven ideas that I believe will be of significant help to you in reaching this higher elevation where you can evaluate yourself, your goals, your business, and the way it’s perceived by others:
- First, make sure you know what your goals are…
- Get up two hours earlier one or two days a week…
- Escape from the studio environment…
- Meditation and relaxation…
- Adopt clear and different roles in the business…
- Talk to your clients about their experiences with you…
- Get help from a coach…
#1: First, Make Sure You Know What Your Goals Are
There’s little point in making the climb to 30,000 feet or even 10 feet if you have no idea what your business goals are.
Most people, when asked, will acknowledge that they want to set goals, but few actually take the time to sit down and formulate any, let alone commit them to paper.
The simple truth about goals is that if you don’t start, you can’t finish!
I believe failure to set goals is one of the biggest reasons why so many small businesses fail so quickly—their business is like a chicken born with no head 🙂
Whether you like it or not, the truth is that you cannot hope to succeed in business unless you have some idea what success means to you, and what it will look like when you have it.
You wouldn’t hop on a plane where the pilot has no flight plan or any idea of where to go, would you?
Therefore, don’t do the same thing with your business.
If you’re going to fly up to 30,000 feet to see the big picture, you’d better file a flight plan first!
#2: Get Up Two Hours Earlier Once A Week
“I don’t have the time…“, “I’m too busy…“, “there aren’t enough hours in a day…“
These are the excuses we hear (and give) all day long whenever something else lands on our plate that we have to deal with.
But, here’s the truth—everyone on Earth is given the same amount of time each day to achieve whatever they want in life.
It’s up to you to make time for the things that are important to you.
If getting a better perspective on your business is important, you can make the time for it.
Just be careful not to fill up your time with “busy work”. The key here is to do less, but achieve more.
One simple way to do that is to just get yourself out of bed two hours earlier one day a week.
As far as I know, nobody has ever been killed from getting up early. In fact, it’s more likely to make you feel a whole lot better.
You’ll find that those extra two hours, with no distractions, can be amazingly productive.
Devote some of it to studying, some to strategizing and some to evaluation of where you are.
But beware—under no circumstances fire up Photoshop, Facebook, Twitter or the TV.
In fact, the only electrical device I recommend using during this special time is the coffee machine…
#3: Escape From The Studio Environment
It can be especially difficult to think, or see the big picture, if you’re immersed in the very environment you’re trying to fix.
One analogy is that drowning is best prevented by getting out of the water!
No matter how hard it can be, schedule yourself some time away (and I mean completely away) from your business environment.
Go out and walk in the woods, visit a state park, or even just enjoy your own garden at home. Anywhere but at the office!
Turn off your phone, let your loved ones know that this is important time for you to think and strategize, so that you won’t be disturbed.
Giving your mind (especially your subconscious mind) a rest from the craziness that fills your world will allow you to direct your thoughts to more the abstract and conceptual ideas that surround your goals and how you might achieve them.
I promise that you will return feeling much better, more confident, relaxed, and ready to take on the day.
#4: Meditation And Relaxation
Since my goal is to help bring peace to your photography business, this discussion wouldn’t be complete without some mention of the value of meditation and relaxation.
I use these techniques all the time, and find them incredibly helpful in reducing overall stress, clearing my mind, and allowing ideas to form more coherently.
To do this effectively, you must have at least 30 minutes of undisturbed time where you can separate yourself from the world to sit quietly.
Listen to soothing music, or even a self-hypnosis CD.
Being in a state of deep relaxation allows your conscious and subconscious minds to communicate more effectively with each other, allowing the transference of ideas to take place unimpeded.
You will be amazed at how your perspective will change after these types of sessions, and the ideas that come to you.
Opportunities will become more clear, and you’ll have a more positive outlook, even if things might not be going your way right now.
#5: Adopt Clear And Different Roles In The Business
It’s important to understand that your business is an organization, even if you are the only one working on it.
Just like a larger business, you need to have separate divisions, each with their own managers and workforce.
For example, if you’re the only employee, you are simultaneously the CEO, sales manager, marketing manager, head of photography, client relationship manager, and social media manager, to name but a few…
The problem is that we try to take on all these roles at once throughout the day, resulting in mass confusion in our own minds.
Stop, and wear just one hat at a time, even if it’s for just a few moments.
Whenever you’re faced with any kind of business decision you should consider the possible choices with every hat you can put on to make sure that it’s ultimately the right choice for your business.
The CEO role is the most important one in the context of this article, since that’s the role that sits in the cockpit of your plane at 30,000 feet with the flight plan in hand.
Putting on your CEO hat allows you to view everything in your business from the benefit of higher ground to ensure that it conforms to the vision you’ve set forth and that everything you do moves you closer to your eventual business goals.
#6: Talk To Your Clients About Their Experiences With You
Nobody knows what it actually feels like to work with you better than your clients.
Are you providing them with the experience they deserve and want from you?
Go ask them!
Call up some of your favorite clients and talk to them about the experience they had working with you. Ask them why they hired you.
You’ll be amazed at what you learn, and this can also be a great opportunity to get a glowing testimonial from them.
Ask them what they would like that’s different to what you currently provide. Find out if there was some aspect of the experience that they didn’t like as much or would want to change…
Don’t be afraid of this—I think a lot of photographers are secretly scared that their clients will suddenly turn around and bite them, but that’s not likely to happen 🙂
#7: Get Help From A Coach
The purpose of this article isn’t meant to be entirely self-promotional, even though coaching is one of the main services I provide.
However, there’s nothing more valuable than having someone else to talk to you about your business, someone who understands what you’re going through, because they’ve been there themselves.
One of the things my coaching members tell me is that they enjoy being able to brainstorm their ideas with me, to be able to put a real voice to their thoughts, and to see their business from a more objective point of view.
Even if you don’t take my Essential Marketing And Sales Strategies For Photographic Storytellers course, I strongly urge you to find someone who can help you get unstuck in your business.
At the risk of being blunt, you’re stuck for a reason and, if you really knew how to get unstuck, wouldn’t you have done so already?