Don’t Let Being On the Road Put Your Business On the Rocks

Don’t Let Being On the Road Put Your Business On the Rocks

Don’t Let Being On the Road Put Your Business On the Rocks with Skip Cohen

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the April issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

The theme of this month’s issue is travel, and it’s a broad topic. Typically it covers everything from what gear to travel with to ways to get the most out of travel photography and expanding your brand.

If you’ve followed me long enough, you know I rarely follow what everybody else does. So, let’s talk about travel from the perspective of what happens to your business when you’re gone.

I’m tired of trying to contact somebody via phone or email and being told later, “Sorry, I was on the road.” Just hearing that makes me wonder how much business photographers lose because they don’t respond quickly enough to a potential client.

Think of this month’s article as the business equivalent of the biggest buffet you’ve ever seen in Vegas—it has a little of everything. I’ll let you pick the challenges where you need the most help.

Staying in Touch

Years ago I interviewed Gene Ho, a wedding photographer from Myrtle Beach. For traveling, he’s set up a system for an assistant back home to respond to emails and phone calls. The payoff comes with locking down brides quickly, often before other photographers have even opened their email. He has everything set up on his phone, and his assistant has the same. They never miss an inquiry.

If you don’t have an assistant, then it’s about discipline. You should never ignore a potential client. While out-of-office canned responses explain a delay, don’t let it be your excuse to not respond to somebody. Even going off grid allows room for a system to make sure people get a personal response.

Delegate Decision Making

For those of you who have at least one person helping you, teach them to understand your priorities and goals for your business. Then give them the responsibility to make some of the key decisions when they need to. There’s nothing worse than being an upset customer and learning you have to wait several days for the boss to return your call. The quicker you handle problems, the less complicated they’ll be to resolve.

Check Your Internet Real Estate

Whether it’s your website or blog, do a quick check at least twice a day to make sure everything is working the way it should. While I’ve brought up this topic under the travel umbrella, it’s something you should be doing every day.

Recently I was helping a great small landscape company here in Sarasota with its website. We were in my office, and the owner was surprised by the way his site looked on my Mac versus her PC laptop. Even more alarming was the way the site looked on a cellphone.

Always check your links. I’m convinced when we’re asleep, gremlins, hoping to grow up to be Russian hackers, practice on our websites by disconnecting links. They slow down the load time on pages and create a little cyber chaos on a grassroots level.

Check on Different Web Browsers

When you’re checking your site and blog to make sure things are working right, check on at least two browsers. Google Chrome is America’s most popular browser, followed by Explorer, Safari and Firefox. Don’t forget the demographics of your target audience. If you’re hitting an older audience, my guess is they’re still using something other than Google Chrome.

How’s Your Insurance Coverage?

Before you travel anywhere on photography business, make sure you’re insured, especially for theft. Years ago, returning from a dive trip, we came back through Houston. There were four of us traveling on three different airlines, and we all lost luggage at customs. While two of us got our gear back, two others in our group lost camera gear. One of them got his travel case back with a different camera.

All it takes is a call to your insurance agent. Remember, your homeowner’s policy does not cover equipment used for business.

On the Road Teaching?

Most hotels, if you’re hosting any kind of conference, require a special liability policy. When I used to do Skip’s Summer School, it was a standard clause I added each summer to make sure I was covered and in line with the hotel’s policies.

Your Gear and Travel

First, think about what you’re going to take. There are few things more pathetic than a professional photographer with unprofessional expectations of how their equipment is going to make the trip. Never take on an assignment without backup gear. Being a professional means handling any challenge that comes up. That means you need backup camera bodies, lenses, strobes, etc.

Murphy’s Law states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” I subscribe to Murphy’s Revised Law, which states, “Murphy was an optimist.” Be prepared for anything to happen, from a jam to dropping a lens.

Rental Houses and Camera Dealers

Make it a point to always know the major rental houses for photography gear in the area where you’re on an assignment. It’s a nice insurance policy if something goes wrong and you need to rent gear. Build relationships with the sales reps in your area who work for the companies whose products you use. You’d be amazed by what they can do for you when you’re in crisis mode.

Packing Your Gear

In my book, the standard was set by Lightware years ago, and I’m not convinced anything has ever surpassed their quality and durability. Your gear is your most important asset. Everything needs to be well packed and protected. Don’t compromise on the quality of your equipment cases.

Your Calendar

However you track your appointments and commitments, have your calendar with you when you travel. I’ve embarrassed myself too many times being on the road and forgetting something I had scheduled. It’s so easy to check your calendar each day; set up your phone with reminders and never miss scheduled events.

Your Contacts

Keep your address book up to date. The other day, I was trying to track down a photographer for a new episode of “Why?” and not one phone number out of three in my address book was accurate. I finally found him, but only after a search on the Internet.

Back-up Plans

Always have a Plan B. Just looking at the weather in other parts of the country reminds me of how many times I’ve had to change or cancel a trip because of a winter storm. Leave yourself room on the front end of travel just in case you have to change plans.

For wedding photographers, this means flying into a destination wedding a day or two early. Arrive at a local wedding a few hours early and always have client contact numbers on you. You never know when you might hit a speed bump that does more than just slow you down.

You Back Up Your Files All Day Long—But Who’s Your Backup?

Sooner or later, something is going to happen that forces you to miss an appointment. Years ago, I wound up in the hospital fighting with a gall bladder from hell. I won, but it put me out of commission for a week. My good buddy Scott Bourne stepped in to keep my blog up and running. When Joe Buissink was in the hospital years ago, Cliff Mautner and Bambi Cantrell jumped in to teach a class he had scheduled. When Calvin Hayes had a death in the family, Denis Reggie shot one of his weddings.

The list of friends watching each other’s back in this industry goes on and on, but don’t wait for a crisis to develop a solution to life’s surprises. Come up with a few alternative plans. This is no different than the fire drills you did in elementary school—all you want is a plan for the unexpected.

Your Network

Whether you’re traveling when something comes up or just dealing with the surprises of running a business, a good network takes care and feeding. Identify a dozen people you trust the most. Keep in touch with them and think through what you’d do in an emergency situation and the role they’d play.

As I’ve written so many times before, the best part of this industry has nothing to do with photography. It’s about the friendships that develop out of everyone’s love for the craft. Those friendships are all about support for each other and helping to deal with the surprises life throws our way.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the April issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

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