If you are a small business owner, like myself, you know starting, and nurturing a business, is hard work. You have probably worked through the night to meet a deadline, sacrificed precious family time to work weekends, but most of all, you have fought hard to make it work because your business is your baby.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 50% of business will survive past the first 5 years. That’s only half! I was listening to a workshop this week and this information actually made me smile. Being Poly Mendes Photography became an official Limited Liability Company in May of 2008, I’ve somehow fell in the 50% that made it past 5 years.
PMP has grown a lot through the years, and today, with set policies and procedures, and the most amazing clients any business could ask for, I am able to not only run my business, but mentor other business owners in establishing and growing their own businesses. My hope is to serve my community by sharing the tools I have used myself to achieve success.
How to survive the 5 year business curse? I believe there are some very important principles that will get you to year six and beyond. Today I’m sharing 5!
1. Work with your ideal client: Your ideal client is NOT anyone who is willing to give you money. The best exercise I did at the beginning of my career was writing down exactly who my ideal client was. There’s something very powerful about being excited to work with someone. I remember a wedding consultation where the bride said photos were not important to her, and even though she wanted to hire me, I knew in my heart she wasn’t the right client for me. I want to work with people who value my work and will be excited to see what I can do for them.
Exercise: Write down your ideal client! How old are they? Where do they like to shop? Are they outdoorsy? Do they like to go on adventures? Do they like to exercise? What kind of restaurants do they like to go to? Would they prefer to cook and have an intimate dinner?
2. Charge for your time: I know portfolio building is sometimes the only way to get photos that will showcase what you can do, but when does it end and where do you draw a line? Discounting your work will lead to a lot of work, and little pay, and will burn you out. It also takes away from the industry you are trying so hard to be part of. Educate your friends and family that after the session, you still have to go home and edit all those photos, and if you’re trying to build a business you have all the administrative work like blogging, social media, accounting, emailing, etc, which is why giving away a free session actually means giving away 5-10 hours of your time!
Exercise: Think of all the free or discounted sessions you are giving away. Is it worth the hours away from your family? How long can you sustain this model before you start feeling overworked and underpaid? What steps can you take to change this situation?
3. Customer Service: From personal experience, I only work with companies that will give me impeccable customer service. My biggest advertisers are my clients, and that’s because I make sure their experience working with me is wonderful from start to finish. Emails are answered within 24 hours (but usually within a couple of hours), I make sure they have fun, meet with them in person after the session and hand deliver most orders. If anything doesn’t meet their expectations I make sure to fix it. That’s why most of my clients stay with me and value my work.
Exercise: Write down ways you can impress your clients! Beautiful products, branded packaging, prompt responses… Think of a bad experience you’ve had with a business, and how you would react differently. What’s a company you love? Why do you love them? Is it something you can adapt for your own business?
4. Staying passionate: I limit the number of weddings and sessions I shoot in a year. I also limit the number of weekends I’ll work in a year. That’s so important to me because whenever I go out and shoot, I’m usually ready to rock it out! I get it right in camera so my editing is easier. I only photograph areas of photography that are interesting to me. And most importantly, I take time to do things that will keep me inspired and excited to work!
Exercise: Make a list of all the session types you offer (newborn, family, senior, birth, wedding, etc). Is there something on that list that you’re not passionate about? If so, take it out out of your portfolio and stop offering it as an option. The thought of photographing a birth doesn’t make me excited at all. Therefore, I won’t accept commissions to do it, or add that to my website.
5. Taking time off: This is so important. Yes, it’s your business, but it shouldn’t be your entire life. Keep a healthy balance of work time, friends time, nap time, and so forth. I do my best thinking and writing in hotels, so I try to take as many trips as possible during the year. I come back inspired, full of content, and ready to make magic! Blogging poolside, yes, please!
Exercise: What are some things you wish you had time to do? When was the last time you did them? Look at your life and know that if you’re not making time to do the little things that make you happy, work will feel like a burden, and you will burn out.
Cheers to being a survivor!