All I really need to know I learned…well, starting my business!
Taking a cue from Robert Fulghum’s best selling book “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” I have compiled my own little, not so best selling, list of knowledge I have gathered over the past 8 years in business, some things the hard way.
Usually about this time of year I reflect on the past 12 months of my business and even go back to day one: Memorial Day, 2006. What’s working? What’s not? What can I do better? My main goal is always fulfilling the needs of my commercial clients today while continually growing my business for tomorrow.
This spring will mark the start of the 9th year for Minick Photography. This past year again has proven to be fantastic. It’s been quite a run thus far. Here’s my very non-scientific list on running a business.
1. Love what you do. Trite advice? Maybe. True? Definitely. After about 16 years of photojournalism at two dailies I was ready to move on. I knew I wanted to run my own commercial photography business I just had to figure out how to do it. I can’t imagine waking up everyday hating what I do…so I don’t! You don’t have to either.
2. Create a work/life balance. My business is very important to me but my family, friends, mountain biking and health are more important. Work hard. Play hard. For me, gone too are the days of working all those nights, weekends and holidays. I have never heard many successful business owners on their deathbed say they wish they would have worked harder and spent less time with family.
3. Form partnerships with your clients. Whether you run a commercial photography business or a fortune 500 company, form a relationship with them. It doesn’t have to be a legally binding partnership…just a long lasting connection that benefits everyone. I do this with all my clients. Building trust allows for a very comfortable working relationship in good times and bad.
4. Be Fair. Fulghum actually says to play fair. I know I am not the least expensive commercial photographer in this market (nor am I the most expensive). I try to offer my clients more than just quality content. I also offer a smooth workflow, quick turnaround, creativity, collaboration, reliability and friendliness. I am simply fair to my clients, those I sub contract work out to and yes, my business.
5. Be nice. Do I even need to mention this one? Yep. You can be good at what you do without the need for ego or attitude. I have met some really good photographers over the years with some really bad attitudes. Being mean can negate your entire skill set.
6. Be organic. Not the food kind (unless you want to be). Allow your business to be fluid and organic. I have always believed that a business that grows organically is one that will thrive for years. Turnover within companies occurs quite often. While it can be scary to find out the person who hired you is no longer there (this happened twice this month), know that if you have developed the partnership that I mentioned above, you will continue to provide service to others at that organization. Many times I have also had contacts at one client bring me on board at their new company. That relationship then organically transfers to a new client, sometimes effortlessly. Win-win.
7. Don’t undersell or devalue your work. It’s important for business sustainability! Know your market. Like I mentioned before, my rates aren’t the lowest in town. Not the highest either. I charge a fair rate for the quality services I provide based on all the specs of the job quoted. I have turned down numerous job offers because the potential client didn’t want to pay my rates. Saying “No” can seem like bad business advice but sometimes “No” is actually the best thing for your business. Taking a job that cuts your rates also devalues your work, the work of others in your field and is unfair to clients willing to pay your rates.
8. Keep moving forward. Don’t dwell on the past. Learn from it and move on. I have made many mistakes along the way. None of them killed me yet. Well, one nearly did back in the day. Big fire. Exploding drums full of chemicals. Photographer to close. It happens.
9. Build a brand. Write a business plan from the get go and create your brand. It can change over the years (See #6) but be sure you have a target market in mind at all times. I do commercial and corporate photography. I don’t do weddings, baby photos or family photos so I don’t brand myself as such.
10.Keep an eye on the industry. Watch your competition but don’t obsess about them. You want to make sure you are keeping up with trends in your industry for sure but constantly stalking your competition will only chew up valuable time that you could be doing something constructive.
There are many, many more I could list: Hire a fantastic accountant, keep Uncle Sam happy, have plenty of insurance… it’s endless.
What business tips do you have for 2014?
Wishing everyone a prosperous, healthy and happy New Year in your business and personal life!!
My “business partner” and I take a break.
(Jason Minick, is owner/photographer at Minick Photography)