Many of us became photographers because we are passionate about capturing powerful, timeless images that will live forever. It’s a beautiful idea, but it’s hard to chase this lofty goal with any fervor if you cannot afford to pay the bills. With that in mind, as a professional photographer, it’s important to spend just as much time making sure you have a great business plan as you do perfecting your skills behind the camera. One photographer who has had quite a bit of success managing his business and turning a healthy profit is Sal Cincotta, a wedding and studio photographer. When asked about how he’s become so successful, Sal said it was all about the business plan. Here are Sal’s tips for crafting a business plan and solid branding foundation:
Start With a Mission Statement:
Your mission statement is a summary of why you do what you do, and operates as a boiled-down version of the fundamental purpose of your business. As a photographer, that usually means trying to “offer your clients the best experience possible” or “create meaningful artwork that clients will cherish,” but get specific. What is it that makes you — and your business — unique?
Write a Vision Statement:
Your vision statement is an extension of your mission statement. It’s the framework that drives the actions needed to become successful,” Sal explains. To get started, think about what you want your portfolio to reflect, your relationships with clients, your revenue stream, and your productivity. Set a standard and then start to think about the factors needed to achieve that standard (training, equipment, market conditions, opportunity, etc).
Write an Executive Summary:
This is the most important part of your business plan. It’s the who, what, when, and why all at the same time. This is what your clients and potential clients will see. “This may be the last piece written, but it’s the first piece displayed,” Sal emphasizes.
Conduct Some Marketing Analysis:
Think about your industry and your niche within that industry. For example, if you are a senior portraits photographer in LA, what does that market look like? How many school sessions are there in total in your area? What is the average spend on each shoot? These are the questions that will help you understand the market opportunities and set realistic goals for your business.
How’s Your Organization Structure?
Chances are, right now, it’s just you running your company. If you have a second shooter or anyone who helps out, make sure to break things down into primary and secondary responsibilities. Set this workflow up from the beginning so there is no confusion later. A prime example of this confusion are the rights of a second shooter. Do they own the photos they take? Many of them think they do, but if they are working for you, you need to be clear about who owns what and put that agreement in writing.
Marketing and Strategy:
Your ideal client isn’t going to walk through your front door and ask to pay you $20k to shoot their wedding. For a lot of inexperienced small business owners, this part of the business adventure is like a round of monopoly where you land on every one of your friends’ properties and go broke while they somehow tip-toe around all your properties. “Why aren’t they visiting my hotels? They are quality establishments!”
In Monopoly, it’s all up to the dice, but in the real world, it’s all about communication. How do you find and connect with your ideal customer? How do you best communicate your value to a client? How do you inform them of your product, how it works, and why they can’t live without it? Or in Monopoly terms, why is your hotel the best hotel on the whole damn board?
Think about what you can do with a small budget but with a high return. For example, a magazine ad is expensive and the immediate return might be low. If you have a tight budget, your best bet is probably targeting your ideal customer by creating your own content on a blog or other online outlets.
Describe Your Service or Product Lines:
This is where you define your service structure. Is it full service? If so, take a look at Sal’s description for senior photography portraiture: “We offer a once-in-a-lifetime model experience for our high-school seniors, complete with hair and makeup and a photography style that screams individuality for our clients. Clients looking for the ultimate in senior portraiture will be treated to larger than life imagery that will be shared and enjoyed for years to come with our lifetime warranty and archival products.” This outline gives potential clients a clear insight into what they will get and what they should expect.
There’s no easy way to perfect this step of a business plan. Once you’ve taken a detailed look into your market and developed the appropriate goals and objectives, you can start to think about your finances. If you are an established photographer, go back and look at past numbers and couple that data with the data you gathered from your market. What can you project for the future based on these numbers? It’s not a perfect science, but it should give you a great idea of what to expect and what you need to do to hit your goals.