Building A Team to Support Your Studio with Michael Anthony
There comes a time for any successful photographer when they have to think about growing their business. In the beginning, as a solo entrepreneur, you are handling the services (photography, videography), marketing, sales, operations, production, and communications. As your business grows, it will become very evident that no matter how hard of a worker you are, there will never be enough time in a day to accomplish all of the tasks required in your business.
This is the point in your business when you probably begin to ask yourself, “Is it time to hire some help?” When you get to that point, it’s usually already too late. Now I want to start by letting you all know that I understand your reservations about hiring employees. No matter how much money you spend on equipment in a year, it will probably never be close to what you invest in an employee. People are inherently expensive, and the workload involved in having employees is also very stressful at times.
However, no empires have ever been built by an individual, and if you want to continue to grow your business, you will need the help of other people.
However, before we look at hiring employees, let’s first talk about outsourcing. Let’s do a practical exercise. Take all of the tasks in your business that I listed above and write them down on a piece of paper. Cross out the functions that you love to do in your industry. Those tasks will undoubtedly include the actual photography portion, but it may consist of other items such as sales. Whatever you have left, those are the things that you have to look at finding outside help for. Before you hire an employee, first consider what you can outsource. In 2012, I decided to outsource all of my post-production to Evolve edits. This was a fantastic decision at the time for me because it allowed me to free up more time doing the things in my business that I needed to do. Because post-production is going to be your most time-consuming task, I recommend looking to outsource that item before hiring internal help. But I have written many articles on the benefits of outsourcing your editing, so I’m not going to dive deep into that today.
The next thing that is likely bogging you down is communications. I know at the beginning of my business, I struggled to maintain a quick response time, which for today’s brides, is becoming more and more critical. There are many instances where we have received not-so-pleasant emails from failing to respond to a client email within a 24-hour timeframe. I learned early on that this was an essential component of the client experience. Hence, the first employee that I hired was a studio manager who was responsible for handling all client communications.
Hiring your First Employees
Now, I’m going to tell you that hiring your first employee is both critical and very time-consuming. The person who’s going to be in charge of client communications will be the person who is in charge of the client experience. If you choose the wrong person, it will cost you real money. There are a few traits that you need to look for when hiring a studio manager. The most important one is how much they want to be there. You have to hire people who are looking for work for the right reasons, which means that during your interview process, you have to weed out the people that are just looking for something temporary and look for people that genuinely care about helping others.
Our current studio manager came to interview with us for a photographer position. In talking with her, I quickly realized that she had a strong skill set in communication, was very organized, and also had sales experience. While I wasn’t looking for a salesperson at the time, I knew that at some point when my studio grew, I would want my studio manager to be able to take over the sales process. Nearly five years later, and she has become a highly valuable asset to our team.
When you’re hiring employees, you have to look at their entire skill set and find people that will fit the needs you currently have as well as what you’ll need in the immediate future. You also want to look for people who are looking for a career path in the photography industry. This will allow you to give them opportunities to move up within your company as your company grows, giving them longevity and giving you peace of mind.
Let’s talk about the next position that you may look to hire. After editing and communications, the most time-intensive task in our business is production. I’m not talking about the actual editing of files. I’m talking more about processing print orders, designing albums, and retouching anything that a client purchases. Believe it or not, this is an incredibly time-intensive job in our business. It’s also very important to consider that the person who is ordering prints may tend to make mistakes at the beginning, which costs a lot of money. Therefore, it’s essential to find somebody who’s organized and pays attention to detail.
You Hired Employees. Now What?
Now, let’s talk more about the logistics of the hiring process. Understand that everything I’m going to write to you here comes as a result of experience. I didn’t go to business school and never worked in corporate America, so I have good insight as to what is relevant in our industry as a business owner who has hired both good and bad employees. Let’s first talk about compensation. I am not a fan of paying minimum wage to people in sensitive positions. I think that to attract excellent talent, you have to be willing to pay a little bit more for a specific skill set. You will see a difference in the quality of applicants between trying to hire somebody at minimum wage and paying $2 to $3 above that.
Next, it’s essential to institute a training period and implement benchmarks that your employees have to hit before becoming permanent with your company. I typically will give them a small raise for completing their probationary period. During this training period, you have to challenge them and make sure that they can think critically. You will not always be able to judge an employee’s ability to work under pressure just from an interview itself. However, when you give them essential tasks with deadlines, you will see quickly if they are up to the challenge. When training a studio manager, you may want to have them make client calls and listen to them on the phone. It’s essential to have patience in the beginning, as they will make a lot of mistakes. However, the errors are not what you are testing; you are testing their ability to learn from them. If you have to retrain somebody nine times on the same topic, they’re probably not a good fit for your company.
Lastly, I want to talk about the most crucial element of building your team, and that is to document processes. Everything in your business has a process associated with it. That could be responding to leads, filling out post-production order forms, or scheduling engagement sessions.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most photographers don’t have a process manual in their business. If you are in that category, start making one today. I use Microsoft OneNote to store our business processes and can make updates to it whenever I need to. When we hire a new employee, we provide them with the process manual so they can figure out how to deal with a situation on their own. This will eliminate 75% of the repetitive questions you have to answer when training a new employee.
The last thing that I want to go over before closing out this article is how to build an environment that encourages a productive team. You will likely be hiring creatives because that is who will be attracted to your job ads. That means that you have to promote their use of creativity in your business. As an owner, you should always be open to ideas from your team and implement strategies with guidance from the people who are working directly on those issues. For instance, if I’m doing a particular pose that clients do not tend to purchase in the salesroom, then I need to be open to listening to my salesperson when she says we need to look at a different strategy here. By listening to your team and implementing their ideas, you are helping them to become part of your business. This is essential for creating longevity in your business and having happy employees. Happy employees will be productive, and productive employees will make you more money. Other things you can do are implement employee benefits like healthcare and a retirement plan, and plan activities for your team. Rather than working on a project by yourself, assign a member of your team to be working on it with you. That’ll allow you to collaborate with them because two minds are almost always better than one. Surround yourself with a fantastic team, and that will pay you back in dividends even though employees are incredibly expensive.
If you implement the strategies that I laid out above, you will build a reliable team that will put you on the right track toward achieving your business and financial goals.