Set Up Your Business for Success in 2018 with Skip Cohen
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“Procrastination makes easy things hard and hard things harder.”
This month marks the slow time of the year for most of us, the first quarter, but it doesn’t have to be. Many of us think that because the revenue stream slows down, so should the work.
I love the quote I kicked off this month’s article with because perfectly describes what so many of you are putting yourself through.
It should have been easy to clean up your website months ago, but you held off, and the problems on your site didn’t go away. So, you limped through the last few months knowing full well you weren’t showing your best work, hating your About page and knowing your Contact page needed to be more complete.
Being successful in business today is tough enough without the unnecessary challenges so many of you create for yourself. We all do it, me included. We have great ideas, things we want to change or try, and we put them on the backburner with one excuse after another. We ponder and ponder and ponder until we’ve missed the opportunity we were excited about in the first place.
So, let’s look at two of the critical areas slowing your growth and come up with a few solutions to set 2018 up for your best year yet. Let’s knock off the to-do list so when new challenges come up in the year ahead, you can take action without worrying about those issues that should just be ongoing maintenance.
Think of it the same way you would care about your car before driving across the country. You’d check the tires, change the oil and get a tune-up. You’d fix any problems and plan your route with the stops along the way. You wouldn’t just hit the road with zero preparation.
Your skill set
When business is good, everybody thinks they’ve found the right combination of techniques. It’s not until work slows down and drops off that people take the time to fix things they should have resolved months or even years earlier.
If you’re telling people you’re a natural-light specialist, give it a rest. You might be fooling them, but the rest of us know you haven’t taken the time to learn lighting. Look, we all love working with natural light, and there are some incredible artists who have captured some of the most stunning images this way, but if you look at their skill set, you’ll find they’re never limited by any type of light.
During the next few months, you’re going to have so many opportunities to learn lighting, both online and hands-on, at various conventions. Get yourself into lighting workshops that are outside your comfort zone. Search YouTube for experts in lighting like Sue Bryce, Bobbi Lane, Tony Corbell, Sal Cincotta and Jared Platt, just to name a few. Wander over to the websites of the lighting manufacturers. ProPhoto’s site is loaded with videos and inspirational stories to help you think outside the box.
“I’ll fix it later!”
If you’re spending too much time in post-production cleaning up your images, it’s another sign that you don’t possess a decent skill set. Stop wasting your time behind the computer that could be better spent marketing yourself and your business.
Bad images are bad images, and taking a shortcut on an image is what got you into this mess. If it’s a really bad image, sometimes your time will be better spent not wasting it using every tool in Photoshop to try to clean it up. After all, one of my most favorite lines is:
Know your gear!
Photography is one of the only businesses where people think if they have the right equipment, they’ve earned the right to call themselves a professional. If you bought a fully loaded Porsche, would it make you a racecar driver?
Practice, practice, practice! Get to know your gear so well that you understand every feature. For years, I’ve said photographers shouldn’t be allowed to own a high-end digital SLR until they’ve shot a case of chrome. I’m dating myself, but shooting chrome (transparency film) wasn’t forgiving. If you screwed up the shot, the lab couldn’t bail you out. You owned it and had to go back and learn exposure.
You need to understand how every lens you have performs. Shoot in every mode, from “P” to “M.” The same goes for flash versus available light and understanding the impact that changing your ISO setting will have on each image. Then there are so many features in today’s cameras for in-camera editing—all of which you need to know.
A great little exercise Roberto Valenzuela talks about is to look at an image from a wedding, for example, and see how many other images you might have captured instead. It’s a great way to test your composition and cropping skills.
Practice different techniques!
Just because your core specialty doesn’t require something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn every skill your camera gear allows you to engage. Macro, landscape, night photography, dragging the shutter, shooting wide open and focus stacking are all techniques that help you become more well-rounded.
How are your video skills?
I’m betting I just lost a few of you, but hear me out. The line between still photographers and videographers is blurred. Most of you have gear that allows you to capture video, but the skills needed are entirely different from clicking the shutter.
Video slideshows aren’t new to you, but they are to so many of your clients. If you have the skill set to combine video with still images and great music, you can seriously enhance your product line. You can do video thank-you notes, engagement announcements and holiday cards—the list goes on and on.
It’s time to stop being a one-trick pony and expand your skill set to a level that allows you to take on more jobs with the confidence you need to build a stronger brand.
How’s your website look?
Switch gears and create a list of things you need to do to your website. A few of you have turned procrastination into an art form.
Your website is your most important piece of property, the equivalent of a bricks-and-mortar location 20 years ago. Yet you treat it with almost complete indifference. It’s as if you built a new studio but bought everything you needed at the Salvation Army, and now you’re the proud owner of a lot of outdated equipment. Sure, it works, but it’s not showing your abilities in the light they deserve.
Bad fonts, terrible layouts, confusing text and unappealing site design are just a few of the pitfalls. There is only a handful of you who have the expertise in graphic design to create a great website. Just keep one thing in the back of your mind at all times: It’s not about what you like, but what appeals to your target audience. For most of you, that target is “Mom.”
A few of you will argue this point, but I firmly believe your first tab should be your Galleries. The second tab is your About page. The third can be general information, followed by your Contact page. Hook your audience with your images first, then make it easy for them to get to know you with a strong About page.
Let’s stop sharing mediocre images. If it’s not a “wow” image, don’t share it. A “wow” image is so good that it’s the only one you’d need to show to get hired. Also, stop posting dozens of photographs. You need only six to 10 in any category, not hundreds like so many of you keep doing.
What you show is what you’ll sell!
So many artists show everything they’ve ever photographed. They want to demonstrate they know how to shoot a wedding, yet the images they share aren’t any better than what Uncle Harry would show. Concentrate on your core specialty, and, as your skill set gets stronger, add the appropriate components to your business.
Your About page
I’ve written so much about this over the years. Your audience doesn’t care what awards you’ve won in print competition, what camera gear you shoot with, how you got started or what your favorite movie is. What they care about is whether or not you can be trusted to understand what’s important to them. They want to know why you love being a photographer. This is where you get to be a romantic and share your love for the craft and start establishing trust with your clients.
Share helpful information and stop posting contract restrictions that would scare an IRS auditor! I understand the fear of being taken advantage of by a client, but many of you have cancelation clauses, copyright statements and restriction policies on your website. You need all of them, but don’t hit your audience with that information on the first date. Save it for the contract discussion when you’re face to face with them and working to fulfill their need for a professional photographer.
It’s my number-one pet peeve with photographers. You put in terrific effort at building your website, then you limit your contact information to an email template without a phone number. Even worse, you don’t answer your emails quickly, and people have to wait to hear back from you.
Think about how much you appreciate a company that gives you access to a live body instead of email. You feel like they care about you. You get instant replies to questions or concerns.
There’s no such thing as too much contact information. I understand if you work out of your home and don’t want to list a physical address. But share everything else, including a phone number and email address. Get back to them as quickly as possible. Any delay is an opportunity to hand over business to your competitors.
Create an experience!
You have a choice to make. Your website can look like everybody else’s, or it can be an experience for your visitors. Make sure it’s a great place to visit. It should be so special that clients share it with their friends and your reach grows each time another person looks at your website.
Next month, we’re going to work on cleaning up that blog, your marketing, community involvement and a list of ideas to help you make the new year your best one yet.
Remember, your website is about what you sell, and your blog is about what’s in your heart. I kicked off 2018 talking about your skill set because it’s the foundation for everything you put into your website and business.
You know where your weaknesses are, but the great thing about being a photographer is that virtually everything is fixable. Just stop procrastinating. Let’s work on what you need to be a better artist and business owner.