Planning for a Profitable Year with Lori Nordstrom
A new year means a new slate. Of course we want to look at the past year to gain information, to evolve and to grow, but don’t dwell there. Celebrate your successes, and gain knowledge from the mistakes. Last year is over, and it’s time to decide what 2016 looks like for you.
One of my favorite things about owning my own business is that I get to decide whom I work with, when I work, and how much money I will make. It’s all in our hands as business owners. Take the time to plan for each of those things. As I put my plans in place, I want to share with you the top 10 things that I plan for in my photography business to ensure maximum profit. In the end, if we can’t be profitable, we have to find another “job,” so while some may say, “I do it for the art,” in the end, if we’re running a business, that business should be profitable. Getting to do what we love is a big bonus.
First on the list is goal setting. We all know that we should be setting goals and making plans to reach those goals, but statistics say that only 5 percent of people ever write down those goals. Digging further, those same statistics report that 80 percent of those who write down their goals actually succeed in accomplishing those goals. That’s powerful stuff. When we write things down on paper, we give our goals a deeper level of commitment. Set aside some time to write out your immediate and long-term goals, both personally and professionally. Then write action steps—small things that you can do to get you closer to your goal.
Planning and Projections
Once your goals are set, you can start putting a plan in place to reach those goals. Your action steps can be put on your calendar, so that you set aside time to make each one happen. Plan for profitability. Your pricing, the presentation of your pricing and how you will conduct sales should all be a part of your plan. When we make a plan, we are taking control instead of letting our business control us.
We spend a large part of our life working. Hopefully you chose photography because you had a passion for it, but understand that building a strong business is essential to keeping the joy you started out with as a new photographer. Mark Till, who wrote The Lucrative Photographer, found in his research that studios with a written business plan gross an average of 50 percent more than those without a plan—so get your plan in place.
Projections for the year allow you to see your year at a glance. Plan and project how many sessions you can do this year and how much each needs to average to reach your financial goals. Once you know what your average should be, you can set up your products and pricing, and how you will educate and lead your clients so that average can be met.
We have to market our business in order to attract new clients. However you choose to do it, the first step is to identify your target client. How can we decide how we will market our products and services before we know whom we are marketing to? The clearer you can get on the clients you want to work with, the better.
We invest a lot of time with each of our clients, so we want them to be people we are excited and eager to spend that time with. There are three things to consider when determining your target client: personality, where she spends her time and where she spends her money. The last two tell us a lot about our target client’s priorities. The first is just getting clear on whom we want to attract to our business. I want to work with people who are happy, positive and grateful, and those who put their family first.
Once we’ve determined the target client, we can begin to put our marketing campaigns into place. What are the best avenues to reach this client? If we know where she’s spending time and money, we know where we need to have a presence.
Networking is the most powerful form of marketing. Whether it’s a word-of-mouth referral, hanging your work at a business you’ve partnered with or a collaboration on a newsletter, open house or marketing piece, networking with other well-connected people and businesses gets us in front of our target client.
Think through the businesses you already know that serve your target client. There are people you do business with. There are those who own their own business that you go to church with, go to the gym with or are parents from your kids’ school. Make a list of these people and start connecting with them to see how you might partner up. As a photographer, you have a built-in resource to meet with anyone you’d like to meet with. Call and offer to take a few photos and tell their story. You won’t be told no, and the connection begins.
Scheduling is so important to the success of your business and how your business affects the rest of your life. Whether you have a family or you’re a single who enjoys free weekends and traveling with friends, your schedule can make or break you. When we start out in the photography business, we say yes to everything. We let clients decide when and where they’d like to be photographed, and plan our schedules around them. This leads to late nights and working weekends to get everything done, and eventually leads to burnout.
I encourage you to plan personal priorities on your calendar first and plan your business around those things. When you take control of your schedule, you can lead your clients to the times you have set aside to work with them. Plan not only sessions, but consultations, editing, ordering, packaging and all of the other business items that have nothing to do with photography. We have to clean, pay bills, return phone calls and so much more. Block time on your calendar for each of your “jobs”—as well as time for yourself and your family.
Workflow is a buzzword in the photography industry. It consists of everything you do in your business, not just your imaging. Scheduling is the first step, but once you know when you’ll be editing, when you’ll be doing sales appointments and when you’ll be packing, the next step is to plan how you’ll be doing each of those things. Set up a system for each part of your workflow so that it’s consistent and you can delegate it to someone else when the time comes. Your goal is to be able to walk away from many areas of your business and not be missed. Putting systems in place allows you to do this when the time comes.
If you haven’t started incorporating consultations into your workflow, make 2016 your year. So many photographers book a session and never speak to the client again until the session. Often, these same photographers complain of no-shows or of clients who have sticker shock or can’t make decisions during the sale. Anytime you have a consistent problem like this, you should do a clean sweep of your processes and look at what part is broken.
Many issues can be solved by simply adding consultations to your client plan. During a consultation, you can answer questions and make suggestions for the sale. A consultation is the time to talk about pricing, especially if a client is struggling at all with what you charge. You can continue the education process that was started on the first phone call. Keep building value, and let them know how what you do will enhance their lives. Go over suggestions for wall decor and albums. Suggest locations, background and clothing based on their home’s style and colors.
What happens during a consultation, whether in person or over the phone, can greatly affect the outcome of the entire client experience—and, in the end, your sale.
Taking your images offline and doing sales in person will change your bottom line, period. Every Shutter Magazine follower has read about the value of meeting with your clients in person and making suggestions for their order. If you’re new to in-person sales, you’ll want to have a few checkpoints in place, most of which I’ve gone over. The sale starts with your marketing, but begins on the first phone call. This is the time to begin to get to know your clients and then offer solutions based on their needs and lifestyle.
That conversation continues during the consultation call. You set the tone with the experience you deliver during the session. After the session, let your client know how much you love her images, and send a reminder about the ordering appointment. The ordering appointment or in-person sale should be an exciting time of selecting favorite images to fill the products that have already been suggested. If you do your job throughout the planning process, the hard decisions have been made. Your client will know where they will be hanging their wall portraits, and they are already considering add-ons such as albums and image boxes.
Put a plan in place for following up with each and every client you work with. Following up gives you a chance to find out how your clients are enjoying their portraits and how they feel about your business and customer service. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to take constructive feedback. Not only should you be following up after a session and sale, but plan to follow up six months later, at any birthdays or anniversaries, and again if you haven’t heard from your clients in over a year.
Client for Life
My goal is to photograph or touch base with my clients each and every year. I want a client for life. Your business may be more specialized by genre. Do you photograph only seniors? Only babies? Your plan may be different than mine. However, even if you photograph only babies right now, stay in touch with your clients as that baby grows. At some point, you might want to expand, even if it’s with another photographer who works under you, or as a division of your company. If you photograph only seniors, you might someday want to photograph seniors’ entire families.
Keeping in touch with past clients that you enjoyed working with will serve you in the future. Families with babies may have another baby. If you don’t stay in touch, they might go somewhere else. Don’t assume that a client who used you will always return.
If you are a portrait photographer like me who chooses the “client for life” path, having systems in place is even more important. Staying consistent year after year gains the trust of clients, who feel comfortable not only in choosing you again and again, but in referring their friends.
Making a plan can change the course of your business. Write scripts so that you’re consistent and reliable. Educate your clients right from the first phone call. Create value at each step of the process. It’s an honor to get to do what we love every day. It’s even more of a blessing to be profitable while getting to do what we love. Plan for a business that you can run and manage instead of a business that runs you.
Here’s to a profitable 2016.