Why You Will Continue to Fail

Why You Will Continue to Fail with Sal Cincotta

Is your business not where you hoped it would be? Are you struggling? Just getting by? Can’t figure out where your clients are or how to connect with them?

Have you stopped for a second to ask yourself why others are successful while you struggle? Have you thought to yourself, “I’m a better photographer?” Or any of the other cancerous type of thoughts that go through photographers’ minds?

Then you, my friend, are the problem. Stop making excuses.

If you are failing and not where you want to be in life, you have no one to blame but yourself. Tough pill to swallow, I know, but for crying out loud, wake TFU! I have been in this industry for 13+ years as a working professional, and I have continuously been shocked at the amount of ignorance our industry continues to propagate. Look, photography, while an art, is a business first and foremost. It’s no different than a chef with a restaurant. No different than a florist with a floral shop. No different than a leather craftsman with a store. They are all artists in their own rights, but they are also businesses, and they are in business to make money.

You have the same opportunity that every other photographer has. So, why are others thriving while you are failing?

This is about getting your mind right. Clarity is an amazing thing when it comes to business. Ego and excuses are dangerous and will ensure you continue to fail. You can’t and won’t find success if you are incapable of looking inward. The most successful entrepreneurs are well in tune with their customers, their business and their value proposition. Are you? More than likely, no. If you were, you would stop blaming others for your failures. You would stop deflecting and start taking action.

In the last 13 years, we have built an incredible business, one that has graced the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Companies in the US three times. That is no small feat, especially for a photography-based business. I didn’t have investors. I didn’t have rich parents. There were no blueprints to success. Nothing was handed to me. I started this business in my basement. Every day, I busted my ass and tried to work harder and longer than my competitors. Today, nothing has changed. Sure, I have the luxury of experience and a bigger bank account, but I am as hungry today as I was 13 years ago. Competition is as fierce today as it was 13 years ago. So, what’s the secret? What can I share with you to help you figure this out? Here are some of the mistakes I have seen failed businesses make.

STOP BLAMING OTHERS

If you are a photographer, either new or established, and believe your business is struggling because someone else is “shooting and burning” or is a “mom-tographer” or is doing “Group-On,” then you are an idiot. Sorry, just straight truth here. You really are an idiot and should not have a business. Why? Because you are not mentally equipped to run one.

There are 2.1 million weddings in the United States every year. In St. Louis alone, I believe there were over 2,500 weddings last year. Hey dumb dumb—if you can’t book 10 or 20 weddings out of these numbers, then you are the problem.

Stop worrying about what gear someone else has. Stop worrying about how they dress. Stop worrying about the fact that they don’t have a studio. All these things are deflections from the reality of the situation. That reality? That you don’t know what you are doing. You don’t have a solid business. You don’t have a value proposition that your clients care about. And you don’t know how to adjust your business to figure this out.

Earlier in my career, when we were new in the St. Louis market, I watched studio after bitter, pathetic studio try to trivialize us and diminish our brand because we were “new” or we were “not certified” or we were “from NYC.” (I kid you not on that last one.) What did we do? Ignored these people. Detached from any of these local groups that were just filled with negativity and deprecating behavior. Instead, we focused on us. On me. On my art. On delivering products and services that our clients wanted—you know, the actual people with the money to spend.

Today, almost every single one of those studios I am referring to is gone—out of business.

Learn from this. I know I have. I will never blame others for my business failures. I will spend my time listening to my customers and focusing on servicing them.

ADMIT YOU ARE LAZY

You are lazy! Admit it. It’s easier to sit on your couch watching the game than it is to open your laptop, learn about marketing, learn about finance, learn about lighting, etc. It’s easier to come home after a long day at work or at the studio and just make excuses about how you will get to it tomorrow than it is to grind through it and do the work that needs to be done.

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A successful business is not going to run itself. As photographers, we make our money shooting and marketing. If you don’t make the phone ring, you won’t have clients to shoot, and if you don’t have clients to shoot, then you will not make money. So, while it’s fun to watch a bunch of YouTube videos comparing the latest Godox to the latest Profoto light, is that going to help you make money?

Even better, is joining in on the comments going to help you? You’ll spend hours on Facebook watching mindless videos and voicing your all-so-important opinion in all the online forums and chats, but you won’t invest the time your business needs to bring in new customers?

Ever notice that the comment sections on most of these sites, videos and groups are almost always filled with angry, pathetic trolls? Why do you think that is? Do you think someone who is successful has time to argue about which light is better, or cheaper, or violating American copyright and patent laws? No. You know why? Because they are too busy investing their time in the things that matter.

It reminds me of a meme that was going around a few years ago. I believe a wife was telling her husband to hurry up because they were late to dinner or something, and he responded, “Hold on, someone is wrong on the internet again.”

START THINKING ABOUT CUSTOMERS

When it’s all said and done, there is one thing that needs to be at the front of your mind at all times. The customer. Customers are where the money comes from. Never lose sight of that. Without customers, we have no business.

It’s not lost on me that part of the problem for any business is not having customers. Trust me, I get it. However, if you are thinking about your customers versus participating in the two activities above, you will soon realize that if you don’t have them, it’s because you are failing at establishing your value proposition to them.

Why should they hire you? That is the question that needs to be answered. That answer could be because you are the cheapest, or that answer could be because you are the best. No matter what your answer is, it needs to be crystal clear in everything you do—your products, your services, your website, your marketing, your overall experience.

It’s not enough to say you are the best. Think about it. You could say you are the best steak house in the world, but if your customers don’t like steak, then who cares how good you are? No one. Putting your customers first requires you to spend some time understanding who they are and what they want. If also requires you to get better at finding the customer that wants what you are selling. If you are a steak house, then you’d better be marketing and advertising to people who actually like steak. Seems like a no-brainer, but I promise you, I have watched businesses bang their heads against the same wall until they finally have to close up shop.

MAKE THE NEEDED SACRIFICES

Want to make money? Want to retire someday? Want a nice car? Want to send your kids to the best colleges? Well, guess what, so does everyone else. I have never met a person who is like, no, I want to make all these sacrifices of my time, risk my savings, and just be barely able to get by.

Most of us want more. More money, more space, more toys. More, more, more. Well, in order to get that more, we need more time to do the things that need to be done, to do the things that our competitors are not willing to do. That requires sacrifices to be made.

If it were easy, then everyone would do it. Literally everyone. There is a reason they are referred to as the 1-percenters. Not everyone can do it. It is certainly achievable. I wholeheartedly believe that we all have the same opportunities for success. Some of us have a tougher road than others, I don’t dispute that. However, we all have the ability to pursue the things that make us happy. We all have the freedom of choice.

If this is what you really want, there is a way for you to get it, I promise you. My philosophy has always been to work harder and longer than my competitors. I had to ask myself, am I willing to do the things they are not? I took my first vacation in 10 years last year. I know you think that sounds like a lie, but that’s a true statement. No work. I took a one-week vacation and it was glorious. However, I knew that if I wanted to build a successful company, no one was going to hand me success. I had to go out and grab it by the balls. I knew I had to be willing to make personal sacrifices. I kept telling myself that if it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not just a saying, it’s the reality of it all. Keep that in the back of your mind as you are building your life and career.

STOP APOLOGIZING FOR MAKING MONEY

If you are going to do the things that no one else is doing or willing to do, at a certain point you will begin to find success. And with that success, you will have money. If you are like me, it will be more than you ever thought possible. If you build your business correctly, the money will come. Money should not be your motivating factor, but it is a very welcome side effect of producing a product or service that your clients see value in.

I have seen this impact people in very different ways. In the beginning of your career, the danger is in operating for the love of your craft. You just want people to have pictures to enjoy. You want to spread and give love. You want everyone to be happy. Or any of the host of truly idiotic reasons you can come up with to not operate a profitable business. If this is your mindset and you feel bad for charging your clients money to work, then you are not a business owner. You are a hobbyist. And there is nothing wrong with that—enjoy your hobby. But seriously, stop masquerading around like you are a business owner, because you are not. Save yourself a lot of time and energy and just acknowledge you are working as a non-profit charity.

Now, if you understand the basics that a business must operate to make a profit, then here is something else to consider: Imposter Syndrome. It’s an easy trap to fall into. You are making money. Maybe you are like me and you came from nothing. My family was broke—no money, no wealth. I identify more with people of middle and low income than I do with high-income individuals. The reason should be obvious.

The trap we fall into is feeling bad, almost apologetic, for our success. Friends we once had, we no longer connect with. Our interests and our goals change as our income level changes. It’s a natural evolution, albeit a tragic one, as you lose connections and relationships along the way. We run the risk of getting caught in between two worlds: the one we came from and the one we are now part of.

If you want success, I promise you, it’s out there for you to go and get. Make no mistake, there are a lot of people out there who want it just as bad, but the difference is, they are not willing to work as hard as you are to get it. Once you know this and see it, you start to realize that you can truly get whatever you put your mind to. Change your life. Change your world.

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Why You Will Continue to Fail

with Sal Cincotta time to read: 11 min
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