5 Truths About Top-Performing Photography Businesses with Michael Anthony
While it seems that good photography is the biggest factor behind any successful photography business, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, you have to produce consistently good imagery and offer a great customer experience, but that is just part of the equation. This month, I provide you with five tips
Most photographers know our studio for its creative lighting and amazing moments on a wedding day. While we’ve focused on photography educational ventures, we excel at the art of business and we have a lot of fresh content to offer photographers who are looking to expand their brands. Our studio is growing consistently at a rate of 10% to 12% a year.
Truth 1: Once you believe you have achieved success, you will stop working for it.
This is the most important one. It’s romantic to think that owning a photography business is all about traveling the world taking photos. But that comes only after years of hard work. There is no shortcut to success. You continually have to redefine your definition of success so that when you achieve your original goal, you can pivot to a new one.
You always need to stay hungry. Sal taught me a long time ago that if your business is not growing, it is dying.
I have gone up against hundreds of studios, from small local competition to the largest wedding photography studios in Los Angeles, and we are now one of the top-performing studios in Southern California. I define success as being the best in everything we do. This is a very hard goal to accomplish, but if you don’t set those lofty goals, good luck reaching them.
Whenever I start looking backward at my competition, I stop keeping my eye on the goal, which currently is to build the largest wedding photography studio in Los Angeles. We have been doing this for only six years, but I have no doubt that with the right amount of work, it is attainable.
Truth 2: You have to develop and implement a consistent marketing strategy.
I am talking directly to the studio owner or general manager. You cannot delegate the most important task in your business, which is generating new clientele. I have tried to delegate my marketing to staff and outside agencies. It is not possible. The reason is that the driving force of your marketing requires you to be in tune with every aspect of the business, from the art to the post-production, sales and client experience. There is not a single employee you would be able to delegate all of that to.
A better strategy is to delegate parts of your marketing operation while overseeing the whole thing. When dealing with local vendors, it’s important to make the relationship personal. If you lose a key employee, they won’t take the business that they accumulated with them.
Relationships are the most important piece of a successful business. When you let relationships slide, you will see business decline. Focus on your relationships with peers in your industry and with your clients, and you will succeed. For more information on building relationships, check out Skip Cohen’s article in the September 2014 Shutter.
On social media, it’s important to stay consistent and current in your marketing strategy. Facebook is quickly becoming a dying platform for generating new business as Instagram becomes more popular. But don’t ignore less competitive social platforms. We are seeing success from Pinterest over the short time we’ve been growing it.
Truth 3: Successful businesspeople never stop learning.
Ego will get in the way of your success. As an educator in our industry, I feel that it’s so important to never stop learning. I put money every year into my photography and business education, and will invest in a course from a photographer I like 10 times before I would buy a new camera. If we are focused on learning new techniques in both business and photography, it will keep us hungry to try new things.
Don’t be afraid to attend workshops, even if you are beginning to educate other photographers. Our industry has this rock-star status surrounding top photographers that I have never understood. Many photographers get stuck in their own ways and refuse to learn new things. One thing I am not afraid to do is shift the style of my photography to better correspond with the market and my clients. Be willing to adapt to change and try new things.
As you continue to see more success, pay it forward to the photographers who are motivated and learning. Don’t view them as a threat. Our skillset does not correlate with our generosity. The latter is far more important to both your personal and professional success than the former. In the beginning, one of the largest sources of referrals we got was from local photographers who were booked on the date of a new inquiry.
Truth 4: Your success depends on the people you surround yourself with.
“Show me your friends, and I will show you your future.”
Pitbull didn’t say it first. It’s a concept with roots so old they were written in the good book. There is a saying in Proverbs 13:20: “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”
Hiring the right people is crucial to your success. Don’t be fooled by the interview process. You want people with an education and relevant experience. Don’t settle for unqualified employees. A good book on learning how to hire is You’re Not the Person I Hired!: A CEO’s Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent. People can fool you in an interview. Put top talent on your team, and reward them for their loyalty and your company’s success.
As you grow your team, implement a formal training plan. Learn from my mistakes. Implement formal training, even if it’s only a few weeks long. When a new employee makes a mistake, add that portion of training to your training manual. That way, you can expedite the onboarding process for new employees. It’s also important to constantly improve your training program.
We’ve just overhauled our associate program, and our new photographers will be some of the best trained in Los Angeles. It’s crucial for you to make sure your team members benefit from the work they do for you, even in their own businesses. Running an associate photographer studio has proven to be more challenging than I thought was possible, but with the right training, it is doable.
Truth 5: You have to be willing to work longer and harder than your competitors.
This topic could take up an entire book. I won’t sugarcoat it. My typical workday starts at 5 a.m. I usually do SEO and social marketing until 8 a.m., head to the gym and am in the office from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. shooting, writing, responding to email or organizing production. When I go home, I work on my creative edits until 10 or 11 p.m. This is the price of success for me. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If you feel like you don’t have work to do, you are not properly strategizing your business.
You don’t have to work 12-hour days six days a week, but depending on your business, you may need to put in that amount of work. As our business has grown, I have been able to delegate certain tasks, but if you look for it, there will always be work to do.
It’s important to find time to step away. You will know when you need that time. Take it, but have the discipline to stay motivated and get back to work once rest time is over.
Our industry is filled with many rewards: world travel, financial freedom and making money doing what we love. But because of those rewards and the low barrier to entry, you are in one of the most competitive industries in the world. If you are this far along in this article, then I know you are willing to put in the work required for success, so it’s likely that you just need help focusing it. One thing that has helped me is to maintain an active to-do list that includes things that are of immediate necessity and future tasks.
My favorite tool for organizing my work tasks is Wunderlist. Use it to keep focused and stay on top of your daily tasks, and sometimes, you may just get done a little early.
The most important truth about building a top-performing business is that it takes a desire to do it. Your motivation will be different from mine. I walked away from an excellent career with a generous pension, good salary and extraordinary benefits. The fact that there is no guarantee of success motivates me to pursue it harder every day.
Whatever your motivation, use it as a guiding light to pursue your dreams and goals, and when you achieve that success, adjust it to keep yourself motivated and hungry. Never let it go.