Chasing Perfection: 6 Ways to Improve Your Business in 2018 with Michael Anthony
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Why do we become entrepreneurs in the photography industry? Is it to chase the American dream? Is it to garner notoriety for our work? Is it about financial freedom? Or maybe it’s just because it’s something we are born with, the need to constantly improve and topple our goals. No matter what your reason is, there is likely something that motivates you to continuously strive for perfection.
Not every photographer who has a first name/middle name photography business is an entrepreneur. Not every person who wants to practice photography analyzes financial reports and market trends, or deals with the uncertainty that comes with running a business. There is nothing wrong with that. In this article, I speak to both the entrepreneur looking to build an empire and the photographer looking to make a few extra bucks and pursue his creative passion. Whichever camp you are in, you are still running a business, even if you are the creative who is employed by the entrepreneur.
There’s no shame in admitting you’re not the best businessperson. There’s no shame in just starting out in business, or realizing your lack of business skills could be why you aren’t getting the results you want.
Here’s where business gets tricky: Fear of failure ties our hands and causes us to not take the chances that are necessary in business.
Business moguls often talk about how you have to take risks to get rewards. But as we kick off 2018, I want to talk more about our own community and industry, starting with the Behind the Shutter community.
I have met many of you at conferences and speaking events over the past few years, including many who were just starting their business. I have seen many of you flourish and begin to spread your message on education platforms. I have had the opportunity to act as a mentor to many of you, and have learned a great deal from your successes and failures.
I’ve noticed the same trait in successful photographpreneurs. Rather then letting the fear of failure bind their actions, fear of failure motivates them to succeed.
I left a career in law enforcement to pursue this passion full time. I had a pension, ridiculously good benefits, an excellent salary and comradery with fellow officers. I knew that to succeed in one of the most competitive industries in the country, I would have to work 10 times harder than my competitors and offer my clients incredible value and a unique product. The fear of giving up my career that I worked incredibly hard to obtain motivates me every single day to succeed. This motivation causes me guilt when I am not working on my business in my spare time.
Fear of failure prevents me from celebrating our successes because I know that we have an end goal much greater than our current success. In my police days, there was a saying: Complacency kills. It holds for business too. If you are not continuously improving and adapting, you will not last.
Over the past five years, I have watched our industry change. The competition has increased dramatically, and photographers are becoming more serious on the business side of things.
Clients are changing too. There is more demand for printed, tangible products in addition to digital products.
In 2012, we adapted Sal Cincotta’s business model. Over the past five years, we have had to adapt to changing competition and client expectations. Had we dug our heels in the sand and refused to adapt, our success would not be where it is today.
If you look online, it’s really easy to see other photographers marveling at their success. The Facebook groups show the photographers who seem to make $8,000 sales from a 20-minute portrait session every two weeks, or seem to book a wedding every two days. Wherever you are in your business, don’t let the successes or failures of others motivate you to change course.
Our studio is doing well, but you have not seen the failures it took to get to where we are. The first year Michael Anthony Photography was in business, we made an average $2,000 to $3,000 per wedding. Five years later, MAPhoto clients invest an average of $10,000 to $13,000 with us, and Studio 23 clients invest between $4,000 and $7,000.
Learning From Failure
Those numbers sound great, right? You would think that we’ve never had an upset client or customer service problem. We actually had plenty of challenges, but the failures between then and now built the foundations of our success.
Let’s talk about a few of those failures, starting with our associate brand, Studio 23.
When I started Studio 23, the goal behind it was to offer clients excellent value at affordable prices. We would make up in volume what we were paying our shooters. I started with employees who worked for Jen and me. As a new business owner, I didn’t understand how employees worked.
Coming from an athletics and law enforcement background, I understood loyalty, comradery and teamwork. What I didn’t understand was how to inspire the people who worked with me to see the same goals that I did. In our first year of business, after booking 40 weddings from September through April, my employees resigned right before we got into the summer wedding season. Can you imagine having that conversation with 40 different brides who have already gotten to know their photographer? If I hadn’t adapted to this change, this one error of mine in choosing the wrong employees could have easily put us out of business. Those employees also had tasks in the studio like printing, delivering and designing albums. When these people left the business, it caused utter chaos for us and our clients.
Going into 2017, I had to redesign all of our processes from the ground up, including our business model for Studio 23. We decided to outsource nearly all of our production to Evolve Edits, including JPEG conversion, gallery upload and signature edits. It’s expensive compared to a full-time employee, but I know that Evolve isn’t going to quit on me and put my clients in another bind. It’s just a smart business choice that gives me more time to market.
Adapt Your Marketing
Your clients are nearly immune to online advertising. Tools like AdBlock make it hard to send your online ads to clients in places they were not originally looking for them. We used to rely heavily on Facebook advertising. Facebook has changed drastically over the past few years. Here are a few facts about advertising on Facebook you need to know.
- Facebook recently stated that it was running out of ad space in people’s newsfeeds, and instead is now pushing those ads over into Messenger and Instagram.
- In 2017, Facebook started rolling out a feature that allows anyone—including your clients and competitors—to see your current ads on your Facebook page.
- Facebook says the majority of its ads are served on mobile and in their “audience network.” This means that if you want to choose placements for your ads in an already competitive ad landscape, you will have to pay much more for results.
- Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, started rolling out algorithm-based news feeds and business pages, so expect your organic reach to drop significantly over the next few years. If you are relying heavily on Instagram now for your marketing, start diversifying now so that when organic reach gets close to 1 to 2 percent, you are ready for it. Instagram’s adoption of business pages means they are closer to making this change.
Facebook advertising is an important part of our marketing, but not even remotely the largest source of our leads anymore. We used to use Facebook to generate new leads, but now we use it to reinforce our position as an expert in our field in the eyes of our clients. If you are new in business, consider using Facebook ads consistently to let clients know about your brand. If you have been in business for more than a few years, consider using it to reach a new audience. You will have to adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
We rely heavily on traditional advertising, but we also use our clients as a mobile sales force. Here are a few things you should focus on.
Online reviews are good for your business from a search engine standpoint, and they are also great for prospective clients to see. Not every review has to be five stars, either. In fact, people are more likely to trust a business with 100 reviews with a four-star average than a business with 10 or fewer five-star reviews. The more reviews you have, the better it is for your business, so encourage all of your clients to leave you reviews.
Survey your clients after every job internally with a tool like SurveyMonkey. Internal reviews offer a great way to evaluate your performance and identify weak spots. Professional photographers use print competition as a way to evaluate our work and catch problems we didn’t know we had, so why not do the same thing with our clients?
Surveys help us to see and rectify customer service issues before they become a problem. Ask questions like, “Is there anything we didn’t capture that you wish we had?” The answers may be tough to hear, but I assure you that once you hear the same thing three times, you’ll know what you need to change.
We developed a templated review email that we send our clients. When you work with someone for over a year, there is likely something in the process you could have improved. I started doing this late last year after I realized that from 2012 to 2015, we garnered a ton of online reviews.
The most inexpensive and highly effective form of advertising is a happy client. Motivate your clients to get social about your business. Every few months, we ask clients to post their favorite image on social media, explain why it’s their favorite and tag our business page for a chance to win a free print of that image. This leads to a ton of organic exposure. Will it get the phone ringing that day? No, but building a brand is a marathon, not a sprint.
Strive for the Best Customer Experience
The last piece of advice I have is the most important. Keep improving your customer service. I guarantee there are at least five things you can change today to give your clients a better experience. It might be something as simple as adding a map link to your automated email reminder or pouring champagne before their wedding sales session.
If you look at your business and make one change per week, at the end of the year, you have taken 52 steps to improve your client experience that will translate into more bookings, happier clients and more profit per order.