14 Easy Fixes for Creating a Stronger Photography Business with Skip Cohen
Since the first issue of Shutter Magazine, I’ve shared one article after another with ideas to help you build a stronger business. I’ve shared ideas about virtually every aspect of your business today—from your website to your blog, marketing, direct mail, education and partnerships.
This month I wanted to have some fun with a series of my pet peeves and easy ways to fix them. This list is not all-inclusive. I’m doing a brain dump, and this month’s article is meant to be a free-form collection of ideas all of you can start working on immediately.
1. Use the phone more.
As the art of conversation slowly dies in a world of social media and text messages, you’ll stand out if you talk to more people rather than email or text. Building an excellent reputation and relationships is about being accessible. While email is fine for established friendships, use your phone to introduce yourself in a way that lets your personality and passion for the craft shine.
2. Send personal thank-you notes.
It’s old school, but handwritten notes are back with a vengeance. When somebody has been helpful to you, take the time to say thanks. If you lucked out at the last convention and got one of your favorite vendors to talk about the business and their products, send them a note thanking them. Trust me, they’ll remember the kindness.
3. Be a second shooter.
If you’re a wedding photographer, you probably just rolled your eyes. After all, you’ve spent your entire career building a business and your brand. Your days of second-shooting are over, right? Think again. Second shooting gives you a chance to do two things. It expands your skill set, especially in areas like workflow and style. It’s like playing tennis or golf with somebody better than you. Your game improves. Second, it helps you build a stronger network with a better relationship with another photographer. Sooner or later, you’re going to need help on something. Having a relationship with somebody you’ve worked with will always be stronger than with somebody whose style you know nothing about.
4. Never eat alone at a convention or conference.
I’m still amazed by the number of people who go to a conference like ShutterFest and don’t socialize with new friends. Breakfast, lunch or dinner is the perfect time to build new relationships and solidify old ones.
5. There are no erasers on the internet.
Stop writing stupid or inflammatory comments on Facebook. People let themselves get dragged into conversations that are endless examples of the worst side of human nature. If you can’t add anything new to a thread, walk away from it.
6. Don’t be a hothead.
This really belongs with the previous comment, but it also applies to your regular emails. Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to be posted on a billboard in your community. It’s okay to be angry and even witty in the way you shut somebody down, but think about what you’re writing before you post it or send it. There are times when it’s appropriate, but most often I read things people should be embarrassed to share, not proud of.
7. Rent before you buy.
Cash flow for any business, new or established, is always a challenge. If the gear bug has you under its spell for that new lens you’ve always wanted, rent it first if it’s a high-ticket item. If you still feel it’s going to make a difference, talk with photographers in your network. There are some great stories about photographers who shared the expense of an exotic lens, lighting gear or a large-format printer.
8. Learn to write or hire somebody who can.
Writing might not be your strong suit, but so many of you sneak by trying to fake it until you make it. If you’re just not a good writer or if you hate to write, wander over to the high school before the new school year starts and talk with an English teacher. Find yourself an A student who likes to write. You might even find an English teacher interested in moonlighting.
9. Still blogging every full moon?
The art of blogging starts out with consistency. If you started a blog and then fell short of posting at least twice a week, and on the same days, pull the plug on your blog until you can ramp up your posting frequency. And remember, your posts don’t have to be shared in almost real time. Build a stash of posts you can draw from when you’re too busy. Your website is about what you sell, but your blog is about what’s in your heart. A great blog can do so much to help you build a stronger relationship with your target audience, which should be your readership.
10. Your galleries are your storefront.
So many of you still have galleries with your complete collection of images Uncle Harry could have captured. This is so easy to fix, and I’ve brought it up dozens of times in articles and workshops. If it’s not a wow print, don’t share it. A wow print is an image so good it’s the only one you’d have to show to get hired. Stop sharing old and mediocre work and pictures that don’t begin to demonstrate your skill set.
11. Clean up your contact page.
I know it’s easy to put up an email template and then wait for people to contact you, but remember that old line about striking while the iron is hot? Give people a phone number to call you at. When somebody has been on your website and they’re excited enough to write to you, you’re missing an opportunity if you don’t give them a chance to talk to you directly. Nobody can sell you better than you. If you don’t have a phone line for your business and don’t share the number, maybe you shouldn’t be in business.
12. Keep in touch with past clients.
Success in business today is about building relationships. Most of you are sitting on little goldmines: the contact information for your past clients. Unless you made a mess of their lives, they have the potential to be your very best ambassadors. Keep in touch with them throughout the year. Put them on your holiday list for a card in 2018. Follow them on Facebook, especially their birthdays and anniversaries. Use your database for a direct-mail postcard about something special you are doing or changing in your business. Last but not least, call them now and then—just a social call to find out how they’re doing. Check out the book UnMarketing by Scott and Alison Stratten.
13. Got your holiday card ready for December?
No professional photographer should ever send out a store-bought holiday card. Create your own card with one of your personal images and print a custom card for this year’s holiday season. A card like this is one of the very best and easiest marketing tools—it’s your image together with your message, not Hallmark’s.
14. Are you involved in your community?
It’s probably quiet now, but the fall brings in the need for help in the school system, fall walkathons, United Way fundraisers and dozens of other community events. People like to buy products from companies they perceive as giving back to the community. With or without your camera, there’s a need for more proactive people in every part of the country. Here’s your chance to stand out from the crowd. In the words of Roger Staubach, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”
And there you have it: a 14-item list of Skip’s favorite fixable pet peeves to help you step up your game, build a stronger brand and move your lifestyle from macaroni and cheese to steak and lobster.
But don’t forget that nothing happens if you don’t keep developing your skill set. Attend every workshop you can. Take classes at conferences like ShutterFest that are outside your comfort zone. Never compromise on the quality of anything in your life—not your images, your business or your relationships with friends, vendors and clients.