The Easiest Photographer’s Business Plan Ever with Jonathan Tilley
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You’d rather be out shooting something awesome and getting paid a ridiculous amount of money for it so you can retire by the end of next week than read an article about a boring business plan for photographers. So would I. That’s why I turned a boring business plan into something fun and easy that will ignite sparks under your ass to take control of your business and make your annoying Uncle Arnie finally stop bugging you about going out and getting a “real” job.
The number-one reason you’re probably cringing right now is because you have the wrong idea of what a photographer’s business plan really is. So let’s define it.
As a personal brand strategist who works exclusively with creative people, I see a lot of creatives calling themselves entrepreneurs. This makes my eyes roll so hard they do a full 360-degree rotation in my skull. Here’s why.
Business Plan vs. Entrepreneurial Business Plan
A business plan is basically a strategy for your business. That sounds easy enough. Let’s move on.
When you create an entrepreneurial business plan, it’s to build a business that you could sell at a later date. Examples include Instagram being bought out by Facebook; Starbucks coffee going from a single coffee shop in Seattle to a worldwide franchise chain; and a mom-and-pop hardware store that gets bought out by a national franchise chain.
These three businesses are still running even after the original owner has sold their company and walked away.
Now here’s where the aha moment happens for us creatives.
Freelancer’s Business Plan
Do any of these examples sound familiar?
A photographer charges a package price for their client’s wedding day photos. A graphic designer charges $50 an hour for logo updates. A Broadway actor signs a one-year contract for the run of a show. A singer charges $500 for a Saturday-evening gala.
These four businesses cannot run if the photographer/graphic designer/actor/singer is not there to do the work. Not there equals not paid.
As a freelancer, you exchange time for money. That’s the creative freelancer’s business plan. That’s it. No pie charts separated into X, Y and Z. No colorful graphs of things moving upward. No algorithm that makes your head hurt.
The photographer’s business plan is this: You exchange time for money. Period.
So now all you need to do is find dream clients who want to exchange their money for your time. Are you starting to cringe again?
No worries. I’ve got you covered. Keep on reading.
Now that you know the ridiculously simple photographer’s business plan of exchanging time for money, how about figuring out how to make a great first impression with your dream clients so you can exchange more time for more of their money?
I want your photography business to be thriving so much that you can pay your bills from your artistry, save money for the villa in Spain and also silence Uncle Arnie when he goes off on a tangent saying photography isn’t a “real” job. So let me show you how to make a stellar introduction with anyone you meet.
Correctly introduce yourself so you don’t look like an asshat when meeting dream clients.
I go to a lot of conferences where creative people are networking and marketing themselves so hard that it’s borderline abusive behavior. The worst case was in L.A. in 2014, where a creative was running down the hallway with his business card in his hand chasing an agent screaming, “Take my card! Please! TAKE IT!”
Obviously that networking encounter didn’t go well. And I most definitely don’t want you to have such an experience. So let’s regroup, reframe and reconsider how you put yourself out there in the world without looking like an asshat.
The main problem I see is that creatives think “networking” and “marketing” deserve “quotation marks.” But what if we replaced “networking” and “marketing” with saying hi to someone or simply making a new friend? That feels much more authentic, natural, unforced. And just between you and me, that’s all networking and marketing is: being authentic to people who could hire you.
But how do you string together the right sentences that sound like the real you without getting sweaty palms and an uncontrollable case of the hiccups? Let me answer that question with another question: Do you like to play MadLibs?
Answer the following eight questions honestly, and then we’ll string them together into a stellar introduction:
- What’s your name?
- Where are you from?
- At what age did you pick up your first camera?
- What type of photography do you do?
- Who are your dream clients?
- What is your dream client’s benefit from working with you? What do you help them with?
- List three of your top clients (even if they aren’t well known).
- Write down one thing you love about what you do.
Now let’s string it together into an introduction à la MadLibs.
Hi, my name is _________1_________. I’m from __________2________. I picked up my first camera at age __3__ and haven’t been able to put it down. I work regularly/exclusively as a ______4______ photographer with ________5_______. I help them __________________6_______________________. Some of my favorite clients are _____7_____, ______7____ and ______7______. The one thing I love about what I do is _________8__________.
Let’s use the example of a wedding photographer.
Hi, my name is Tracy. I’m from Boston. I picked up my first camera at age nine and haven’t been able to put it down. I work regularly as a wedding photographer with engaged couples on their special day. I help them capture a milestone in their lives that they can look back on in 60 years and still feel the love between each other. Some of my favorite clients are Rose and David Davenport, Sal and Jenny Germinotta, and my sister Lucy and her husband, Jeff Gaultier. The one thing I love about what I do is being a fly on the wall on a day celebrating love between two people and being able to capture unique moments during that one day that will live on forever.
Now let me ask you this: Anywhere in that stellar introduction, did it feel like Tracy the wedding photographer was “networking” or “marketing”? Hell no! Did it feel authentic? Hell yes!
At the end of the day, you can relax a bit knowing that all you really need to do is exchange your time for your dream client’s money. And to get the ball rolling, use the stellar introduction exercise above. What you do in between is what you do best: shooting something awesome to be paid a ridiculous amount of money so you can retire by the end of next week…or maybe in a few decades.