You Can’t Do It All with Blair Phillips
Photography generally begins as a fun and carefree hobby that is manageable all by yourself. You photograph a subject and have what seems like infinite amounts of time to edit the images. You care little about how long sales appointments take. The phone may ring a couple of times a day. You think to yourself, I should have started this a long time ago. Good images partnered with great marketing begins to make your phone ring more, sessions start feeling like work and editing piles up on your desk.
Welcome to the photography business. You are most likely going to learn that you need help. You can run the rat race of thinking you can do everything all by yourself. If you choose that route, just know that you will begin to enjoy photography less and less with each passing year.
There are several types of help and employees. One of the most popular these days is outsourcing. Outsourcing is one of the hardest things for some photographers to do. We feel like no one can do things as good as we can. Not only are there tons of outsourcing companies out there, but they can often do it better and way more cost-effective than us.
The best way to find out where you need help is to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Keep doing the things you enjoy and are the best at yourself. Pass along the tasks that you struggle with and dread every day. If you are in need of help in certain areas, search the Internet for a company that can help you remotely before you add someone to your payroll. Contract labor is another great alternative if you only need help with certain events from time to time. It’s like having an employee on call.
The hardest thing in beginning with employees is where and how to find the right fit. You may be spending a large part of your life with this person, so you need to find someone like-minded. One of the first things people do when looking for help is to ask people they know. Look elsewhere first. The problem with hiring people you know is that they come into the business with some existing comfort. If they are running a few minutes late, they may feel like it’s not that big of a deal. People who have no previous relationship with you will look at you more as a boss than a friend.
Waiters and waitresses can turn into great employees in the photography industry. Pay attention to your server when you are out to eat. They generally possess great customer service skills. You can train most people to do nearly anything, but great people skills are hard to teach. Someone either has it or they don’t. If you meet the right person, ask them to come help you for a weeklong project. This way, if they do not mesh well with your business, there are no hard feelings.
A cardinal sin for any business with employees is lack of an employee handbook of policies and procedures. I spent years just figuring things out along the way. Once an unfavorable action is displayed with no consequence, it will likely continue. There has to be consequences put into place for things that are unacceptable. It is your name on the line when things are poorly executed. We all get too busy to deal with some issues that arise. With employees, you must address issues as soon as they appear. If not, it will make for a miserable work environment. There can be growing resentment to the point that you will not even want to be there yourself. You also have to lead by being a good example. Employees will have much more motivation if they see your day-to-day dedication the business. They need the feeling that you are building a business together.
There have to be rules, procedures and consequences. There can also be fun and happy times. I love setting goals for employees. These goals need to be realistic and attainable. There should be a really nice reward once that goal is met. We run our business with the mentality of when we are doing well, you will be doing well. When we have jobs that go exceptionally well, I share with employees. This could be as simple as treating everyone to lunch one day, or sharing a piece of the profits. A happy employee is crucial to continued growth. An unhappy employee is toxic for you, your business and everyone involved in the business. Take the time to show people how much you appreciate them.
You may not see the benefits of having an employee immediately. Your workload will almost double when you first hire someone. You must take the time to show them exactly what you expect and how you want things done. They will not just automatically know what to do. Don’t let them bite off too much at one time. Do a little training at a time to ensure they understand how to execute a task. An employee is an investment and an asset to your company. They need to be given the proper tools and training so they can do the job to the best of their abilities. I have found that having employees write down the steps needed to properly execute tasks makes them more easily repeatable. Supplying an employee with the proper tools sets an environment for them to be confident and happy.
Once an employee has been with you for a length of time and understands the scope of your business, have a brief meeting with them on improvement—not on how they can improve, but ask for input from their perspective on how things could run more efficiently. They see it, live it and do it on a daily basis. Their ideas on the simplest things could save you tons of time and money. Employees who feel as though their opinion is valuable have tons of morale and generally never disappoint you.
On the rare occasion that someone begins showing their heart isn’t with you any longer and they need to move on, handle the situation with caution. Always take the high road, and never say anything out of character. You want to be able to go anywhere and run into anyone without being uncomfortable or ashamed. Even if the other person is completely in the wrong, turn it into a positive situation and reflect on all the good things they did while they were with you. Elaborating on the negatives serves no purpose other than regret in an hour or two. You want this person to hopefully continue to say nice things about you and your business once they leave. They will talk to people about their experience, especially if it ends in a shouting match.
This world is filled with far too many problems to continue to create more of our own. Treat people with respect, and you may get a little in return. If not, who cares. In order to grow, you must rely on other people to help take you there. You will hit a few bumps along the way with employees, maybe lose a few, but when you find the right one, it is worth every gray hair earned along the way. With employees, it is not about finding the person with the best skill set, but rather a friendly person you can train for those skills. You can’t teach people to be friendly—they have to already have that.