The Key Steps to Starting Your Business with Skip Cohen
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It’s the anniversary issue of Shutter Magazine, and that milestone is proof that time flies when you’re having a good time. I’ve written for every issue since the very beginning five years ago, and couldn’t be more proud to be part of the team.
Five years of continuous growth in the publishing industry is a remarkable accomplishment. Because it’s an anniversary, I started thinking about what makes a business successful and able to grow year after year.
If you’ve met Sal or know his reputation, you know that he is proof that hyperactive kids grow up and have careers. Sal never sits still.
Five years ago, Sal started with an idea of an online magazine that later expanded into one of the most beautifully produced printed publications in photography today. That vision of a successful “how-to” magazine grew into a live hands-on educational event with ShutterFest. ShutterFest expanded with the more intense Lunacy. While Shutter and ShutterFest were growing, Sal built a community, demonstrated by the ShutterFest forum on Facebook all day every day.
This review of Sal’s successes over the past five years isn’t going to help you directly to build a stronger business. But hopefully it’s inspirational. From virtually nothing, Sal and his team have established themselves as the leader in several industry categories. So, how can I help you think through the challenges of doing the same with your business?
A few weeks ago, I shared a classic guest post on the Marathon Press blog from one of ShutterFest’s favorite educators, Lori Nordstrom. The topic was about how to start building your own dream business.
“I hear from so many photographers who are ready to go from portfolio building to getting their business started, and even from established photographers who know they need to make changes in their business. The decision has been made, and the question is, where do I even start?
“There is so much to do: marketing, pricing, selling, workflow, business management . . . so what’s first?
“Well, you’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Yes, now you’ve heard it one more time: It starts with a plan. It astonishes me that we will plan a party, a trip, lunch with a friend, but we don’t plan for a profitable business. Which is more important?”
There it is, the foundation for this month’s article on developing a business plan.
Sal called me a month before he launched the magazine wanting to know if I wanted to write for Shutter. I didn’t hesitate to come onboard. I won’t speculate on the steps Sal took, from his first vision of Shutter to a tangible product. But let’s look at the steps necessary to visualizing and building a professional photography business.
1. “What if?”
It’s my favorite question when I’m thinking about any new project, and it’s a part of how your dream probably got started. This is the perfect way to start any new project, business or career—allowing yourself to dream.
Just as photographers visualize an image they want to create, you’ve got to do the same with the dream of your business. Surround yourself with positive people. Share that vision and keep asking yourself: “What if?”
2. Setting goals:
I’m a big fan of targets. Each target is a stepping-stone to turning a dream into reality. Think of targets like the rungs on a ladder.
3. Establish a timeline:
Nobody’s ever been successful with just good intentions. Each goal needs to be processed and completed. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some steps that take longer to reach than others, just that each one is a critical component of a successful startup.
4. Write a business plan:
This is all thanks to Lori getting me thinking about my own business plans over the years, and it’s critical to your success. So many of you launched your careers by establishing expertise in your skill set and then deciding you were in business without ever thinking through the steps necessary to being a success.
Can you run a business without a business plan? Of course you can, but you’re also going to waste time and energy, and will be eating macaroni and cheese every night.
Here’s a website that’s essential to your success: www.sba.gov. This site for the U.S. Small Business Administration provides all the steps necessary to writing a business plan.
Let’s look at the basics that site suggests.
- Company description: Think through what the core of your product line is going to be. You know how to focus on your subjects, now it’s time to focus on your core specialty and the logical spinoffs in your business. Specialties include weddings, newborns, children, family, commercial and editorial.
- Market analysis: This is one of the most critical components of any successful business. It’s also one that’s most ignored by new photographers. It’s important to examine the market, the competition, key price points and demographics. You’ve got to understand your target audience and the community you work in.
- Organization and management: Even a one-person operation has to have organization and a support process or team in place. If you’re a solo artist, that means relying on your network, lab, systems support, etc. You’ve got to think through how you’re going to manage your business.
- Service or product line: What are you going to sell? What’s involved in the delivery of the finished product or service? Here’s another point often missed when an artist establishes a new business. As a professional photographer, what are the products you want to sell, and do you have the support and expertise in place to deliver? This is where you should include prints, albums, framed prints, video and slideshows.
- Marketing and sales: It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you that will make you a success. So, what’s your plan? How are you going to market your business? I’ve provided suggestions in just about every article I’ve written over the past five years, starting with your website, blog and community involvement.
- Funding and financials: The SBA puts them in separate categories, but for this article, I’m lumping them together. How are you going to make money? How are you going to price your work and services? Who are the vendors you need to work with to get the support you need to deliver the very best product at the most reasonable margin?
Here’s what Sal said in one of the best videos I’ve ever seen on business practices: “Nothing can screw up your business faster than bad pricing.” You’re trying to build a business, not a charity. Remember, a business that doesn’t make money is a hobby.
5. Launching the dream:
This is where I wrap things up, because my purpose is to get you thinking about success. Once you’ve completed your plan, it’s time to revise your timeline and lay out the best route for your journey.
When you officially launch, the work really begins, and there’s no turning back. There will be changes along the way, and each component of your business—your website, blog, network, publicity, partnerships, communication, customer service, skill set, vendor relationships—all require care and feeding.
Owning your own business is a remarkable feeling. The keyword is owning. It’s about service, building relationships and, most importantly, faith. Even more important than your business plan, you’ve got to have faith in your ability to build your business.