Top 10 Ways to Plan for a Successful Business with Lori Nordstrom
We’ve all heard it said that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” and I believe it—not only in business, but in our personal lives as well. I want to share with you the top 10 planning techniques I use to ensure success. I learned to plan the hard way. It was at a time when I felt I’d hit rock bottom in both my personal life and in my business. I made a decision to get up, dust off and start over. I sometimes say that I didn’t have a choice, I had to make it work. But the reality is, we all have a choice. Instead of letting things happen as they may, build a plan for success.
- Plan to Plan
Make a decision to plan. I set aside time to plan for several days at the end of each year to review the year and put projections on paper for the coming year. I also go over my business plan at this time and make any changes needed. Each month, I designate time to plan for the coming month, and break it into weekly and even daily priorities.
Put blocks of time on your calendar for planning. I spend the first 15 minutes of each workday prioritizing and planning my day, and ask the same of my employees. This has made a big difference in productivity. Having a daily road map helps us stay on track and get things done. Clear-cut goals for the week, month and year allow us to put action steps in place to make sure we reach those goals. Having time carved out for this is essential to making it happen.
- Plan for Work-Life Balance
As small-business owners, we often get so caught up in running our business that it takes over everything else. Learn to plan for your personal goals and dreams first, and then build your business to support those dreams. When planning your schedule, plan for personal and family time first, and then plan your business time around those things to keep them your number-one priority.
- Plan Your Income
Planning your income may sound foreign to you—the idea that we actually get to decide how much money we will bring in, and how much we will put into our pockets. But as business owners, we do get to decide. The thought of what you make shouldn’t feel like a roller coaster ride with its ups and downs and loop-de-loops, never knowing what’s coming next. I realized years ago that if I was going to be responsible for taking care of my family, I really needed to know what to expect. The only way to know what to expect is to plan for it.
First, decide how much you need to profit each month. Second, decide how many sessions you can do each month. Third, decide how much you need to average for each of those sessions to meet your profit goal.
- Plan Your Workflow
Most photographers get bogged down with their workflow at some point, which leads to burnout. A workflow that isn’t planned out will keep you up all night working on images, or scheduling sessions at times when you should be with family. How can you streamline your process? What should you be outsourcing? We wear a lot of hats in our businesses, and I’ve found that if I don’t plan out each job, I get behind and end up pulling those dreaded all-nighters. I don’t know about you, but I like my sleep. So, don’t just plan your sessions on your calendar—plan for all of the other jobs you do as well.
Make a list of all of the different jobs performed in your business—things like bookkeeping, marketing and playing receptionist, all the details in the client process and more. Make a list, and start prioritizing parts of your day for specific tasks. Put each part of your workflow on your calendar. By getting it all on paper, you can see the things that are consuming too much time and the things you should be outsourcing.
- Plan Your Pricing
When we determine how many sessions we can do each month, and go through our workflow process, thinking about how much time we invest in each client, it’s much easier to start thinking about pricing appropriately. So many times photographers look at what the competition is charging and try to price similarly instead of looking at their own costs, overhead and time value.
The planning of pricing is an important step to profitability. The PPA Benchmark says that we should shoot for a 25 percent COS (cost of sale) for the rock bottom that we are willing to charge. That means we need to take all the costs associated with each product we’re creating and then multiply them by four. The step most photographers leave out is to consider their time in this cost-based analysis. Remember, cost-based pricing is the lowest that you can charge for profitability. You’ll raise your prices from there based on experience and demand.
Once you’ve determined your base prices, you need to decide if you are going to offer your products à la carte, in packages or in a build-your-own package. Each one of these methods has benefits, and there is no right or wrong. You need to decide which is best for your clientele and the products you’re offering. Next, you need to plan how and when you’re going to present your pricing to clients.
- Plan Your Sales
A problem I see over and over is that a photographer makes the right decision to meet with clients and show them their images in person, but they aren’t closing the sale. Even though their clients love the images and get superexcited about them, they leave frustrated and upset, unable to make a final decision. I hear it almost daily.
The key to changing this is to realize the sales process doesn’t start in the sales room. It begins with your marketing and your website and everything that your potential client sees before calling your business to begin with. Once that phone rings, it’s our job to get to know our client and then start leading and suggesting. Ask questions. Find out as much about your clients as possible. Start making suggestions based on their lifestyle and the things that are most important to them.
A “first phone call” question that has changed my business is this: “Have you thought about where you will hang your portraits?” The answer is always a big fat “No.” They don’t have any idea what they will buy or where they will display it until we make the suggestion to them. This is the number-one missing ingredient for photographers who are frustrated with their sales. If you wait until the sale to ask, “What would you like?” it’s often just too much for the client to deal with. Start the process on the first phone call. Plan a consultation call or meeting with each client to start working through the products that you suggest before the session.
(Download my “first phone call” script at PhotoTalk.biz/script.)
- Plan Your Marketing and Networking
We all get to a place in our business where we need to gather more clients or get in front of a whole new audience. This might come at a time when you’re starting to feel comfortable with the workflow and the process and are ready to take on more work, or it might come when you’ve got to raise prices and you really just need a whole new market to speak to.
Usually when we start in the photography business, and even for the first couple of years, our marketing consists of dragging people in to be photographed. From there, it spreads to word of mouth—and usually because we are pretty cheap.
That’s where marketing and networking come in. You have to have a plan for it.
Networking is really important to a marketing plan these days, and when you’re building your business, you should have time set aside every week to get in front of your target client. That might mean attending events or functions where they are, belonging to the same gym or church, or partnering with other businesses or well-connected people who work with the same people you want to work with.
- Plan for Client Communications
That leads us to another thing I’ve found I have to plan for. How will you go through the first phone call, what should you be covering and what questions should you be asking? We also need to know how we’re going to answer questions, how we’ll tell them about our process, how it benefits them and how we’ll be showing them their images and helping them through their order. Next is a consultation call or meeting. Plan what you will be communicating during this appointment so that your sale runs smoothly.
Plan for when you will send handwritten notes and other correspondence, how you will follow up with clients, how you will thank them and how you will stay in touch.
- Plan to Give
If you haven’t experienced the spirit of giving through your business, you’re really missing out. I don’t necessarily mean giving away your work, although there might be times when that’s appropriate, like for a terminally ill child or mother, or for a family that’s lost everything in a fire. You also might consider giving away your work when you travel, especially to families in need. Giving generously is so important.
Making a plan to give allows you to be a businessperson in that planning. You can set up events and donate all of the session fees, but you still get to be a businessperson and make money by profiting from the sale of all packages or portraits sold. You can have a presence at high-end auctions and other charitable events. If you have a storefront, you can be a drop-off location for a toy drive, pet-food drive or shoe drive (check out Shoes4Love.org).
One of the things to think about as you are planning charitable marketing and events is that you need to make a lot so you can give a lot. The law of reciprocity basically says, “What goes around comes around.” Give and you will get—it just works out that way. Anne Frank said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” So true.
- Plan to Increase
In all of our planning, we should always set goals to stretch, grow and become more abundant in all areas of our lives. Your goals aren’t meant to be a stop sign in the road. When you cross an item off your list, replace it with another. When you reach a goal, set one that’s a little bit higher. I mentioned that every year I go back through my business plan and adjust. I look at areas I can improve. This doesn’t always mean increasing my income, although that was a goal for many years. Now, the goal is to increase my time for family, friends and travel. I also find great fulfillment in helping other photographers increase their success. Life continues to change and evolve for all of us, so make a plan for it.
There are many checkpoints in your business where you should look back and ask yourself some questions. What went well? What can I do better? These are two of my favorites. Ask these questions after phone calls, sessions and sales. Plan for growth in every area of your business.
When you hit certain checkpoints, ask, “What comes next?” Do you have a plan for going even farther? I hope so. This will keep you motivated and reaching for the next level.