More Building Blocks for a Stronger Business in 2018 with Skip Cohen
I started 2018 talking about the “slow season,” and the wealth of opportunities it brings to set the stage for the new year. Just because business might be a little light this time of year doesn’t mean you can sit back. It’s time to get busy building future business.
We’ve hit on your skill set, website and blog. I want to wrap up the first quarter with a mixed bag of ideas to help round out your business and set the stage to make 2018 your best year yet.
Remember, this is my monthly article for Shutter—no one piece can tell you everything you need to know, but here’s what I’m hoping. Just like spinoffs of your favorite shows, everything I’ve written about has a series of extensions into other aspects of imaging and business. There’s one idea after another to help you thrive, not just survive.
Build Out a Calendar of Events
This is the biggest topic I’ve talked about over the last few years. Here are some of the basics about how to do your own annual calendar.
- Lay out a marketing/promotional calendar for the year ahead. Start with the major holidays that lend themselves to promotional offers. You won’t be the only one out there, so your promotional offers have to be as creative as possible. Typical holidays and events with photography tie-ins are Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, back-to-school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukah. You can also create a few of your own. Leading children’s photographer Vicki Taufer has put together an entire year of themed events.
- Make your promotions unique. Call your lab for ideas for new products. Check out Photodex for slideshow ideas and ways to make your presentations more professional. Contact Marathon Press for direct mail ideas, postcards and designs.
- Look for partners with whom you can cross-promote like florists, restaurants and travel agencies. Stop thinking you have to do everything alone when partnerships help you decrease your costs and create new ambassadors for your business.
- Keep your promotions easy to understand and give them value.
- Plan for one big promotion during each quarter with secondary events happening on either side.
Years ago I heard Jay Conrad Levinson speak. He’s best known as the “father of guerrilla marketing.” In fact, he coined the expression. In his Top 100 list of things guerrilla marketers should do is community involvement.
Why? Because people like buying products and services from companies they perceive as giving back. It’s pretty simple: You’re looking for the community to be good to you, so you’d better make sure you’re good to the community.
Now, here’s the fun part. It doesn’t always matter if there’s a camera involved or not.
- Get involved in schools. Starting with photo-centric activities like the yearbook, camera clubs and newsletters, you’ve got the expertise to help. Then there are events having little to do with photography but just need adult support. They can be as simple as working the refreshment stand at Friday night games.
- Find a nonprofit in your community to support.
- Offer to photograph fundraisers.
- Have a community calendar of events on your blog, but go one step further and post about upcoming events you’re attending. Every event has at least three types of posts: the announcement with information about the event; photographs, videos or, even better, slideshows during the event; and social media sharing of images of people in the community after the event.
- Teach a photography class. Virtually all of you are qualified to teach an introductory class on photography, and no community is too small. There’s also an opportunity with youth groups or your church to start a campaign to “beautify the community” by raising the bar on the quality of pictures being taken during the year.
Set the Standard for Customer Service
Whether you’re completely alone, have just one assistant or a small staff, you need to give the perception your customer service department is second to none. It’s not something that happens overnight—just like your artistic skill set, it takes time to perfect.
Start by brainstorming and listing everything you think might go wrong working with any client. Then strategize on those events where you can influence a better outcome—even if the cause isn’t your fault. Then, build a system that includes the following:
- Answer emails from clients and potential customers quickly.
- Return phone calls promptly.
- Take a “buck-stops-here” approach with every problem and do your best to resolve challenges as quickly as possible.
- Give your assistant or staff the authority to resolve problems quickly. No consumer likes being told by whomever they just poured their heart out to that they can’t help them.
- You’ve got two ears and one mouth—so listen twice as much as you talk.
There’s a great resource: Check out Shep Hyken at Hyken.com. Shep is a leader in customer service, a New York Times best-selling author, a podcast host and publisher of a great little newsletter that’s always filled with great content for business owners.
We recently had him as a guest on the Mind Your Own Business podcast, and he made one of the greatest statements I’ve ever heard about customer service: He referred to “fine” as “the F-bomb of business.”
Let’s say you ask a customer how they like their album or portrait, and they say, “It was fine.” A few of you would be elated, at least until you thought about all the things they could have said. “Fine” is horrible and means average, or it was all they needed, you met their minimum expectations—no other adjectives, nothing about the experience or the appreciation they have for their photographer or the results.
We’re a word-of-mouth industry and people don’t share experiences that are “fine.”
There’s nothing to celebrate when you get a “fine.” Check out Shep’s website for ideas on how to avoid “fines” and deliver results that put a smile on your clients.
Costs, Pricing, Profit
Start reviewing your pricing for the new year. As Sal Cincotta has often said, the quickest way to screw up your business is to price yourself too low.
Sal and Lori Nordstrom both wrote books on the topic. I have a Lynda.com episode on the topic. Bryan Caporicci has written one of the best blog posts out there, complete with a formula.
There is a lot of help available, but if you’re eating macaroni and cheese every night, stop thinking things are going to get better just by getting more business. It’s not how much you make but how much you keep—and if you don’t understand all your costs, you’ll never learn to appreciate and build profits.
It has to start by understanding all the costs of doing business. Here’s a short list of a few things so many of you forget:
- If you work out of your home, you can take a deduction for your home office. Talk to your accountant about what percentage of your rent/mortgage, upkeep, utilities and insurance you can deduct.
- So many of you have the wrong insurance. Your homeowner’s policy won’t cover gear that’s stolen from your home.
- Just because you used the family car for business travel doesn’t mean it’s free. Keep track of its usage and include it in your costs of business. Again, your accountant can help you determine how much you can deduct.
- Phone and Internet.
- Travel, entertainment and expenses related to attending workshops and conventions.
- Service of your gear, computer, printers—everything it takes to run your business.
- Outside services from UPS, FedEx, your lab, frame company and other vendors.
The list goes on and on, but unless you know your bottom-line costs for the year, you’ll never get to profitability.
The next challenge is figuring out your pricing, which I’ve written about in the past—so wander into the Shutter archives and check out my article in the May 2016 issue, starting on page 190.
I’ve shared this piece of wisdom before from my good buddy Denis Reggie, who for years has reminded new photographers, “Don’t price your products based on what you can afford. It was years before I could afford myself.”
The slow season is a myth because if you do the things you should be doing to build a stronger business, there should be no downtime, except when you need to step away from the business and simply take a break.
Working the hardest you’ve ever worked in your life is okay only if you recognize when you need to play harder too. Don’t forget to schedule time to recharge your battery when you’re laying out the calendar for 2018.
And, if you need help, you always know where to find me.