Even though curling up with a good book and enjoying some R&R during the winter months is a tempting (and even productive!) way to recharge, there are some other key things that you can do now that will help prepare you for a great year. Here are four things you can start now (and work on through the winter) so that by the time the busy season rolls around, you will be ready for your best season yet!
The off-season is a perfect opportunity to reflect on your business and dream up new ideas. Whether it’s a fresh perspective on your marketing plan, more efficient workflows, or inspiration to try some new ideas during your next shoot, these quiet months are a chance to recuperate and improve.
So, how can you plan for a productive off-season (before it’s too late)? Try following this four-step roadmap that will help you rest, reflect, practice and plan for a great 2014 busy season.
“Do what you do best. Delegate the rest.” That phrase is often heard around businesses, big and small. It sounds so simple, but it’s a driving force behind the concept of core competencies. And big businesses aren’t the only ones that benefit from identifying their core competencies. Professional photographers can create more sustainable businesses if they identify and leverage their own core competencies.
So, what’s a “core competency?”
A unique ability a company has that can’t be easily imitated. Core competencies give a company one or more competitive advantages, in creating and delivering value to their customers. Remember, a core competency is not a product or service.
The term was originally coined by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad and published in their book, Competing for the Future. They challenged business leaders to view their organizations as a “portfolio of competencies,” as well as a portfolio of products and services. That portfolio of competencies actually provides a competitive edge for truly innovative businesses.
How can professional photographers apply this principle to their businesses? First off, you’ve got to identify your own core competencies. Then, you’ve got to fearlessly follow their lead, and delegate the tasks that don’t fall into the category of your “core competencies.”
Let’s look at two real world examples. Apple’s core competency is design. That core competency is the underlying strength of their hardware and software. For Netflix, it’s all about providing the best content delivery. They work hard to deliver content to their customers quickly, in a highly-personalized way.
Put on your business hat for a few minutes, and dive into these questions:
• What specific skills set you and your business apart from other photographers?
• What unique knowledge, or experience, do you bring to the table that makes you stand out from the crowd? (This is the stuff that your competitors can’t imitate!)
• What assets do you bring to your business that enable you to add perceived value to your clients’ experience?
Now, see if you answer “yes” to these questions:
• Is this competency unique to you and your business?
• Does it help you improve your client’s experience, and also pay off in dollars and cents?
• Can it contribute to some new services and products that you could offer?
The best part of identifying your core competencies is that they are almost always things you LOVE doing. That’s because they often grow out of your unique skill set and life experience. Since core competencies become one of the hallmarks of your business, they can be the driving forces of your competitive strategy – and that puts you on a path to long term success!
A large part of being a successful photographer lies in understanding the difference between profit-generating and profit-leeching activities. Minimizing activities that aren’t adding to your profit will allow you to spend more time on activities that are helping your bottom line. Sounds like a simple equation, right? It is. But in the day-to-day busy-ness of running your business, it’s easy to get sidetracked by tasks that not only drain your energy, but also drain your bottom line.
Set up your business so that you have time for profit-generating activities
Shooting, building relationships and managing your business from a high level perspective to keep on track with your goals are all profit-generators. (Plus, shooting is why you got into business in the first place!) Ideally, you want to set up your business systems so that you can devote the majority of your time to these areas.
Activities that are necessary but aren’t helping your bottom line include editing, bookkeeping, album design, studio management and slogging through emails. Although these tasks are all necessary, they’re not directly generating profit for you. Recognizing the tasks that aren’t directly profitable is important so that you can find ways to manage these profit-leeching activities as efficiently as possible. That way, you can get back to making money and stay focused on reaching your business goals.
Tip: Look at the ratio of how your time is spent—are profit-leeching activities taking up a majority of your work hours?
Measure the opportunity cost of doing profit-leeching activities yourself
If you’re considering partnering with a specialist, you should measure the opportunity cost of doing everything yourself versus outsourcing.
Whether it’s marketing for print orders and image fulfillment, album design, or editing, there are numerous areas you should consider the opportunity cost of doing yourself. For instance, the photo editing services that ShootDotEdit provides photographers includes the UNLIMITED PLAN that costs $299 per month. The cost for a year of the UNLIMITED PLAN is less than or equal to the profit of a single wedding shoot for many photographers. Editing eats up hours of your precious time over the course of an entire year. By investing in the UNLIMITED PLAN each month, you can do additional shoots in all the hours that are freed up. These profit-generating activities will easily cover $299 per month (and likely allow you generate much more in profit than this monthly cost). In this instance, the opportunity cost for you to do all of your own editing is far greater than the cost of the monthly plan.
Manage your profit-leechers with partner solutions
So, what’s the most efficient way to manage the areas of your business that aren’t adding to your bottom line? Partner with someone who can do these tasks more efficiently than you can. By allocating business funds toward partner solutions, you’ll free up your time to shoot more and earn more!
Partner solutions for accounting, album design, post production and print fulfillment can be key to growing your business. Use systems that fit naturally with how you already operate your business. Finding specialists for areas of your business that aren’t efficient will allow you to focus on what you do best—shooting and relationships. Specialists are experts in their respective areas and because of that, they can do that task fast AND do a great job. Learn more about how to implement Specialists into your business in our Free Guide on How to Grow Your Wedding Photography Business.
It’s October, which means beautiful Fall scenery, pumpkin-flavored everything, and (maybe) an-upcoming lull in your shooting schedule. You’ve made it through the majority of your crazy schedule of wedding shoots, but a lot of those photos still need to be edited. With holiday deadlines looming, not only do you need to finish up the rest of your shoots, but you’ve also got to find a way to get get those images turned around even faster!
The deadlines are creeping up, and you’re feeling the pressure. But before you go into total panic mode, remind yourself that it is possible to get through this season. All you need to do is follow this three-step plan to keep things under control and keep your sanity in tact.
1. Assess your Workload and Deadline Status
How behind are you? If you’re starting to panic, remember Robert Frost’s simple advice, “the best way out is always through.” Assessing your current status will help you get a handle on deadlines and devise a plan to get back on track. To understand exactly how behind you are, make a list of the jobs where deadlines have been missed (and are still outstanding) and deadlines that are approaching and are not humanly possible to meet.
What deadlines are coming up? Part of catching up is making sure you don’t fall behind on any upcoming deadlines that will set you back even further. Create a list of jobs that have deadlines coming up that require immediate action in order to stay on track.
What tasks do you need to complete? Now that you understand the situation you’re in, you can devise your plan to get out! Using the list of jobs you created, identify the specific tasks that need to be completed to check that job off the list. Prioritize your crucial deadlines and put those deadlines that can wait on the back burner while you resume control over your workload.
2. Keep Communicating with Clients
Let clients know what to expect. If you’ve fallen behind, the worst thing you can do is NOT keep your clients up to date. Letting clients know what to expect—even if it’s a revised turnaround time—goes a long way toward keeping your positive relationship intact. Your clients are excited to see their images, so letting them know what to expect will help ensure that their frustration doesn’t overshadow their excitement. Be realistic. Make sure that any revised timetable you give your clients is accurate so that you can deliver. Revising your turnaround time a second time because you were unrealistic will likely result in irritated clients. And nobody wants that!
Communicate ordering deadlines. When talking to clients about their images, make sure they fully understand deadlines for placing orders they want to receive in time for the holidays. Printouts, blog posts and emails outlining ordering deadline details for clients are all great communication tools.
Say thanks. If your turnaround times are later than your clients expected, find ways to give them an extra “thank you” for being patient. Try a gift credit for prints, extra album pages for free, or a favorite print that you frame and send them. Help keep the experience positive, even if the process takes a little longer than usual!
3. Get Help Where you Need it Most
Find a partner to help. Post-production and album design are common areas that create bottlenecks in your business. But they can easily be addressed – and fixed for faster turnaround times with the help of a specialist! Teaming up with an editing partner to help get you caught up on your shoots quickly is paramount. Then, you can easily get images to clients in time for the holidays, rather than continuing to fall behind.
Don’t wait! Whether it’s hiring someone to help you with album design or teaming up with a post-production partner, don’t put off getting help when you find yourself behind. It’s tempting to think that you can dig yourself out when you’re buried in deadlines and put off finding a partner to help once you’re less busy. But the sooner that you can start working with partners to get back on track, the better. Don’t wait to ask for help until “things slow down.” That time may never come!
Learn from this season’s rush. Effective systems are always a process. So, after the rush ends and you’re closer to getting caught up, it’s important to reflect on what systems you can permanently set up going forward that will help ensure you don’t fall behind in the future. Learn lessons from this season’s rush. After all, you don’t want to fall behind again. Getting a plan in place for post-production and other areas of your business NOW will keep your business running smoothly as you breathe a sigh of relief at the end of this busy season. Plus, you’ll head into the New Year with new energy and a sense of control!
Download our Guide: How to Grow Your Wedding Photography Business
As creatives and business owners, it’s hard to accept help in our business. We can feel like it’s cheating our clients when we aren’t hands on with every image we shoot – from start to finish.
But when your time is limited, it’s not always possible to be involved in every detail – from start to finish. When you reach that point, the best thing you can do for your clients, business and craft might actually be partnering with a specialist who will help you deliver the best results to your clients, while also enabling you to stay creative.
You’re not at your best when you’re maxed out on time and running on empty. Trying to manage every aspect of your business likely means longer turnaround times for your clients and sacrificing on client service. By partnering with specialists who help manage particular areas of your business, you’ll find the the focus you need to be successful.
Here are a few areas that are prime candidates for entrusting to a partner:
The first step in setting your business up for success using partners is to give yourself permission to do it. You may be accustomed to trying to manage everything yourself, so it’s a paradigm shift to trust specialists to manage various aspects of your business.
But you’re not the only one who will reap the benefits of working with specialists to manage certain areas of your business. Here are three people who will not only give you their permission, but will also thank you for partnering with a specialist:
1. Your Client
Your client is giving you permission to partner with a specialist for two reasons. When you work with an editing partner to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, your clients see the benefit of getting their images faster (which makes them very happy).
But time isn’t the only benefit your clients see first-hand when you work with a specialist. There’s also a chance that there are other people who can perform tasks in your business better than you can (gasp!). When you bring those partners into your business, your clients enjoy the benefit. Just as your client trusts YOU to be their photography specialist, you can trust a partner to be your specialist in specific areas. It’s like creating custom cabinetry for your home – you play an important role in envisioning the final result, but a specialist can help you make your vision come to life efficiently and beautifully! It’s the best of both worlds: a superior product in less time.
2. Your Bank Account
Ok, so your bank account isn’t actually a person but nonetheless, it will reap the benefits when you partner with a specialist. Outsourcing aspects of business that don’t directly make you money allows you to focus your time and brainpower on the parts of your business that do make you money! By entrusting others with tasks that aren’t increasing your bottom line, you’ll have more free time to build new industry relationships, talk to leads on the phone, or work on marketing materials – activities that directly increase your profits.
In addition to allowing you to focus on profit-generating tasks, outsourcing also allows you to enlist help that can scale your business without having to hire additional in-house staff.
The time you save on every project by partnering with outside resources will give you more capacity to bring on new clients without having to hire additional staff, which increases your profit margin and the balance in your bank account (making you and your bank account very happy.)
3. Your Hobbies & Loved Ones
As a small business owner, you’re well aware that your time is a finite resource. Every hour you spend on your business is time not spent outside of work doing personal things you love – with the people you love! No matter how much you love shooting, working with images, and running your business, the reality is that you’re on a path to burnout if you don’t take time away from work to do other things that you love. Being stuck at your computer for countless hours is only sustainable for a short time. So it’s up to you to get a long term plan for managing the demands of running your business, while still living a life you love outside of work. Trust us, your loved ones (and your dog) will thank you!
If you’re ready to scale back on the tasks that don’t make you money and can be done by someone else, it’s time to find some trusted partners who can help you. If you’re not quite ready, here are a few more cases for making the transition to partnering with a specialist:
These days, running a wedding photography business that values speed and efficiency is the rule, not the exception. And, running a successful business is a central theme of successful photographers who are passionate about their artistry. Running an efficient, streamlined business doesn’t mean sacrificing your art or producing a poor product. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Creating an efficient business ensures that you’ll be financially stable and have time to create high-quality, artistic work. And it’s your art that inspired you to go into business in the first place, right?
As a professional wedding photo editing company, we believe that “Fast is Best” and that it can help grow your business. Here are 5 ways that being efficient empowers your photography.
1. It allows you to stay focused on your passion and your strengths.
What is it about your photography that you love? How you answer will likely identify your passion. But as we all know, running a photography business requires much more than simply focusing on your passions. The truth is, roughly 15% of your time is used taking awesome pictures! That leaves 85% of your remaining time devoted and dedicated to making sure the business will allow you to focus on the 15% you LOVE doing 🙂
Setting up efficient business practices will create time for you to focus your passions, on personal projects, on serving and loving your clients. And, this will allow you to stay happy.
Photographers all know what “busy season” feels like. There are shoots on the calendar seemingly every day, a steady stream of emails to catch up on, phone calls to return, bookkeeping to deal with, social media, album design, new client meet-ups, current client management, vendor networking, blogging, editing all of those shoots, and the list goes on!
With so much to do in so little time, it’s easy to lose your creative spark. Yet that creativity is exactly what your clients love about you! To keep them happy and to give you the creative space to do your best work, it’s critical to set up efficient business systems. Efficiency actually allows you to have (gasp!) freedom to keep that creative headspace.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, investing in services that streamline your business will save you money in the long term. For instance, outsourced services save you money because of the opportunity cost that goes along with the hours they free up. Instead of spending all that time editing (or doing your own taxes), you could take on more shoots, work on your marketing materials, or start doing more in-person sales meetings–all of which are activities that actually make money! Aside from opportunity cost, when you factor in the time that you spend editing, your hourly rate suddenly drops drastically–and you’re actually not making as much money as you could.
4. Faster delivery to your clients = happy clients.
As busy season is in full swing, you’ll start finding yourself getting farther and farther behind with weddings that need to be edited, uploaded for proofing, and blogged and shared. You know that dreaded email could come at any moment – that email from your client asking, “When can we see our photos?” It’s true, your clients (and their happiness with you) are directly impacted by lag time.
By setting up systems that help in the areas you need it most, you’re able to keep your clients happy and exceed their expectations with fast turnaround times. You can share their photographs when they’re still most excited, soon after the shoot. Keeping your clients happy means they’ll turn into enthusiastic referrers and evangelists that will keep you in business for the long haul.
Entrepreneurs and artists are alike in many ways. They’re creatives, they’re innovators, and they’re thinkers. That means burnout looms like a threatening chasm unless there’s time to breathe, explore new ideas, and wander into quiet thought. That’s exactly why efficiency can cultivate creativity and empower your photography. It gives you control over the tedious tasks of being in business so you can beat burnout by letting your right brain maintain its freedom.
Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, discussed the many qualities that set Jobs apart from other innovators, including his commitment to Zen Buddhism. Although each entrepreneur and artist practice different forms of “taking time off,” actually taking time to think and explore protect you from burnout.
The bottom line is that the best thing you can do for yourself as a creative is to take yourself seriously as a business owner. When your left-brain puts in the effort to create efficient, streamlined systems for your business, your right brain with see the return! You’ll once again enjoy your business for the reason you started it–your passion for photography.