The Photographer’s Slow Season with Alissa Zimmerman
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Welcome to the end-of-year change of pace. For most photographers, this is the time when business is slowing down and daily to-dos start to shift from being out in the field on photo shoots to hibernation in front of our computer screens. Now is the time to hunker down and plan for the success in the year ahead. It’s too easy to get lazy instead. Slacking off will hurt your business because busy season will return faster than you imagine.
Here are a few ideas you can implement to make the most of your down time.
Put a plan together.
Take a whole day to figure out a plan for the upcoming year. This doesn’t have to be a two-week project. If you take too much time doing it, you may not do it at all.
Whether you work alone or with a team, lock yourself in a room and map out the next three months. We do this every year. Sal talks about it constantly. Going through the steps of a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) forces you to lay out the good, the bad and the ugly. It helps you determine the next steps to building a healthier business for the year ahead.
This makes you acknowledge the bad so you can implement immediate changes to fix any issues. If you end up with a monster list of strengths and only a few weaknesses, there’s something wrong. Poke holes in everything you are currently doing. Find what’s wrong so you can make it right. This isn’t to make you feel good about yourself. You should feel as if you are teetering on a fine line between enthusiasm for the future and fear of the amount of work ahead of you.
Analyze your inefficiencies.
This is the best time of year to take a look at your workflows and give them a swift kick in the ass. There are so many new workflow and client management tools available, but photographers get stuck in their comfort zone and never even give them a try. These companies create 30-day trials for a reason—give them a try and step outside your comfort zone.
I am a big advocate of the mantra “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” But staying up to date with tools that will make you more efficient (and, in turn, more profitable) is crucial.
Again, laying this groundwork is not meant to be fun and exciting. It’s hard work that requires an unbiased stance so you’re able to acknowledge any inefficiencies. Do this exercise with your team. If you don’t have a team, simply grab your significant other, a friend or family member, and have that person take a look at what you’re doing from an outsider’s perspective.
You have to stay open-minded and optimistic throughout the process. No one likes to hear their work critiqued, but your internal processes are just as important as your photography. Don’t forget this. This is why it is so important to flush out any of the kinks that may be slowing down your business so you can get back to doing what you love.
I cannot wait for the next few months. I look forward to sitting down and revamping our workflows within 17hats and start implementing all of the new in-person sales tools that we’ll be launching from N-Vu. None of this is possible without putting in the legwork initially to make sure it’s done correctly from the beginning.
Find ways to innovate.
This is where things start to get fun. Now that you’ve got a plan for the upcoming year, it’s time to take a look at what you and your brand offer to clients and what sets you apart from the sea of faux-tographers.
Is your client experience lacking? Map out your current client journey and find ways to add personal touches throughout the process. Are your products getting stale? Do you want to start selling larger wall art? Research new products and tools to help with in-person sales so you can start selling larger to your clients. Do you feel your photography style is getting boring? Take workshops or online courses to learn new techniques so you can revamp your style.
Don’t forget to stock up on samples this time of year. Your past year was spent creating beautiful images. Now, print those images on new products you want to start offering. Remember, you’ve gotta show it to sell it.
This has always been important to our studio this time of year. It’s easy to get sucked into the feeling of burnout at the end of a busy wedding season. What are you doing to make sure you don’t lose your creative spark over the next few months of slow business?
We spend this time of year learning new lighting, posing and compositional techniques on personal photo shoots. These shoots are not for paying clients or commissioned work. We invest the money in a hair and makeup artist, wardrobe and a model, and give ourselves plenty of time to understand what we are doing at a pace that isn’t rushed or on deadline. We can take our time with each shot to perfect these new skills we are learning.
It’s also not a bad idea to attend a conference or a workshop during the slow season. Surrounding yourself with likeminded people is always a great way to find inspiration once you’re heading down the path of burning out. Having a community of other artists you can bounce ideas off of and collaborate with makes the process of creation so much more rewarding.
Take a deep breath.
People are not wired to run on adrenaline for an eight-month window and not need a break and some quality R&R at some point. It’s okay to slow down and take a deep breath. Use this time to reflect on the past year, on everything you’ve accomplished. From there, the list of goals for the next year will generate organically and will come from a place of excitement instead of fear.
Our slow season in the Midwest starts in the beginning of December and runs through the end of February. Sal and I know that first week of December is when the business starts to shift. The number of emails dwindles, deadlines are not as frequent and our days normally spent out in the field can now be spent sleeping in and staying in our pajamas if we want. Enjoy this. But don’t take this time of year for granted.
Remember to breathe. When the road ahead is long and daunting, filled with tasks and to-do lists, don’t forget to take care of yourself first. Your business won’t be a business if you’re not around to run it.