Establishing Goals

Establishing Goals

Establishing Goals with Sal Cincotta

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One challenge I often see when working with newer photographers is a lack of planning. I describe it as defining your “flags.” Where are you going? Where do you intend to plant your next flag? What does success look like for you and your studio? Many business owners don’t know the answer to this simple question. Where you are heading with your business or career, with your life? So many of us struggle with this, and it’s a very important question for you. I find myself asking it all the time. Oddly enough, the answer changes month by month, year by year.

The changing of your flags is to be expected. Life changes. Your business changes. You should be ready to adapt accordingly. It’s no different than a general on a battlefield changing the mission and tactics based on new information.

So, how do we plan accordingly?

Ask yourself: What does success look like?

This is not easy to answer, which is all the more reason it needs to be asked. If you don’t know what success looks like, you are wasting time and energy doing things that may or may not lead you down the right path. It’s like walking around in a dark room looking for a light switch. Maybe you will find it, maybe you won’t.

Success is not predefined, nor is it necessarily a final destination. Success for me has been a moving target most of my career. That’s okay. I am constantly adjusting and moving (more about that a little later). So, to that point, what does success look like for you at this moment?

No one can tell you what success is for you. We all have different measuring sticks. We all have different life goals. We all have different pressures on us.

Is your success tied to financials? Is it defined by independence? Is it determined by a skill level?

Think about what you want out of life and your career. At one point in my career, I defined success as quitting my corporate job and pursuing a career as a professional photographer. Once I achieved that goal, I had to adjust my definition of success. My next goal was a financial one. At first, it was to have an average of five shoots per week. Next, I adjusted my goal to having my first six-figure sales month. Once that was achieved, my goals moved yet again, and changed to crossing the million-dollar mark in gross sales for my studio.

Your goals have to start as reasonable ones and build from there. If your goal is to become the next million-dollar studio but you are not working full-time as a photographer, you can see how it might be an impossible one to achieve, and that can be deflating.

Start with small achievable goals. Success becomes a habit. With each mini-win, you get closer and closer to your larger goals.

Write down your goals.

I have found that having goals without writing them down is useless. I write them on sticky notes and put them on my mirror and laptop. This forces me to stare at them every single day, and nags at me if I am not working on my goals.

This might seem like a silly thing to do, but at the end of the day, when something is staring at you right in the face, you have no choice but to acknowledge it.

This brings a lot of perspective to my day. Am I doing everything I need to do to achieve those goals? It’s a tough pill to swallow when you are the only reason you are not pursuing your goals. So many of us make excuses on a daily basis for our misfortune and failures. Stop blaming everyone else. Control your destiny.

Every time you find yourself acting like a distracted squirrel, remind yourself what the real focus should be by looking at those sticky notes. Ask yourself if you are doing everything you can to achieve those goals.

Expand your tactics.

Goals without tactics to achieve them represent a near impossible mission. It’s like saying you want to get rich, with no plan for how. This is where tactics come into play. I can’t tell you how many photographers I have consulted with who say things like, “I want to do $250,000 in weddings.” My next question is, “That’s very possible, but how much do you charge for weddings?” They tell me they charge just $2,000. With shock on my face, I then say, “The math doesn’t really work here. You would need to shoot around 125 weddings a year.” Incredulous, they then explain they want to shoot just 10 to 15 weddings a year.

You can see where this conversation is going. I see it all the time. People are not realistic about goals or what it takes to achieve them, and then are in complete denial about where they are in life. We have got to be realistic. I am all for dreaming big, but when it comes to tactics, this is where the rubber meets the road.

Tactics will quickly help you understand how realistic your goals are. In the example above, this person would have to charge about $20K per wedding to achieve their goal. While that may be possible, it’s not realistic, especially for someone starting out. You need interim goals before you shoot for that level.

Let’s refocus. What do tactics look like? Let’s say your goal is to quit your full-time job and become a full-time photographer. Great. I love this goal. It was one of mine a long time ago. Now write some tactics or mini-goals that need to happen before you can quit.

  • Book 10 weddings at $2,500 each.
  • Attend four bridal shows.
  • Book 25 portrait sessions.
  • Second-shoot for a major studio and learn the ins and outs.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of possibilities. It’s an example of how you need to start thinking and working toward achieving your goals. It serves as a great reference point for when you decide to buy a new lens or start glamour photography. You can look to this list and ask yourself how the move helps you achieve your goal, or how it matches up against your tactics.

Stay focused.

Reevaluate every 30 days.

We would all be naïve if we didn’t think that our goals and objectives change with time. It’s inevitable. Once a year I determine the goals and objectives for the year ahead, but I know damn well that these goals and objectives will move and adjust.

Mark a date on your calendar once a month for the next 12 months. Label it “Goals Health Check.” This check should take you no more than 30 minutes. The first thing you need to do is look over your goals and ask yourself if they’ve changed. If yes, adjust accordingly and repeat the previous exercises. If no, you need to ask how you are following your plan. Remember those tactics you listed? Are you executing those? If not, how do you ever expect to achieve your goals?

This reevaluation is normal, something I do all the time. What I wanted in January might have changed by the time July rolls around. It can be for any number of reasons. Don’t feel like a failure because you are adjusting your goals. You are a failure if you continue to pursue goals you are no longer passionate about.


Let go of a losing plan. I say this a lot. All too often people hang on to a losing plan. This is a giant waste of time and energy. I have been guilty of this in the past, but over time, I have gotten better at letting go of something that’s not working. We have to be willing to adjust.

Without goals and the tactics to support them, you are flying blind. We all have dreams and aspirations, but do you have the strength to go out there and achieve them against all odds? That’s the hard part. Dreaming is easy. Getting up every day and looking fear and failure in the face—that’s something not many people are wired to deal with.

Many would rather not compete than risk failing. It’s as if there is some sort of comfort in convincing yourself you didn’t fail because you never competed. I call BS on that one. Failing to compete is, in fact, failure. You are failing yourself. You are failing your dreams. Most importantly, you are not pursuing your full potential. How could you? If you don’t risk failure, you will never know what success is.

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the June 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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