I started David N. Sachs Photography just over three months ago. In these formative months of education and growth, I have successfully avoided the responsibility of building a business plan. “I need to focus on my art,” I told myself, “the product will speak greater volumes than a business plan ever could.”
To some extent, as my artistic-half rallied war cries against my business-half, I was correct. No amount of keen business acumen will cover up bad work. The horrible truth about business, however, is that you have to run it as a business. So with great gravity, my artistic and business selves came to peace with one another.
This is (not) a Business Plan
This doesn’t mean I went and built the big formal document taught to first-year business school grads. I’m not building a traditional business plan because I’m not justifying my efforts to a bank or stakeholder with an executive summary or profit-loss statements. The business plan I built is for me.
It’s a document I can look to everyday to help remind me how to run my business, or as Rhett Power says, how to “work on your business, not in your business.” It’s the difference between being in CEO mode and grunt mode, to step away from the day-to-day duties to see the big picture. For me, my end game is to leave behind the creative legacy of David N. Sachs; everything I do must serve this greater purpose.
Technician or Artist?
The first step to building this day-to-day business plan is to know your unique value proposition—what differentiates your work from what’s already out there? Customers have options and choices; if you don’t present alternatives you’re just a button pusher. A technician can only charge so much for their work but an artist’s work is priceless. What is it about your work that makes you an artist?
For my own photography, I can pin at least two things that elevate my art above the noise: every image has its own narrative and the subjects are almost always having fun. Whenever I’m hired to shoot a party, for example, I own the room. I’m always laughing and dancing as I work my way through the floor; this is easily reflected in my images as I get the crowd excited and moving. A charismatic event photographer is so important in capturing fun images that reflect the party’s atmosphere, and this is a strength I’m confident is my own.
Wedding and portrait photography is very similar. As a working model and actor, I’m confident in my abilities to coach and pose my subjects, and this confidence is reflected in the body language and ease within each image. I can drop a whispered word to make the bride crack into a hearty laugh at the right moment, I can pitch my voice to demand stronger looks from my portrait clients, or ease into a soft flutter for more vulnerability. It’s all what makes my photography my own.
The important thing is to create your own market for your own audience. My work comes from the pursuit of my ideal client (a whole other topic I’ll cover later). People who hired me in the beginning were interested in me as a person and as an artist before they even knew me as a photographer. Instead of selling myself, I made myself available. I built relationships with people I wanted to work with on a personal level just as much as a professional level. Once I realized who I enjoyed working with and what kind of work I wanted to pursue, I absolutely started hustling cold calls and emails, but with the informed confidence of someone who knows who their approaching, and why they’re the best fit.
Know Your Goals
Goal setting is only as effective as the time and energy you’re willing to put into them. When setting goals, it’s important to be as specific as you can, and those big pie in the sky goals can often be distracting. For example, instead of a goal to be “the world’s most renown wedding photographer,” be more specific in the steps it takes to reach your goal. Break it down as much as you can, and then divide those steps into primary, secondary, and tertiary goals.
Primary Goals are what’s most important to your business right now. What can you get done within 30 days? These are the goals where you watch a little less Netflix and start making sacrifices for your business.
Here is a list of my own primary goals as of this posting:
These are two things I can easily work towards over the next 30 days, and every day I sit down to work on my business I have these tasks to crosscheck the effectiveness of my efforts (ie, is what I’m doing right now serving my primary goals?).
Secondary Goals are a little bit bigger in scope than Primary Goals, and can be slightly less specific:
Narrowing my brand identity is clearly not as specific as writing one blog post per week, but is still focused enough that I can crosscheck my tasks against whether or not I’m closer to accomplishing my goal. I have pages and pages of handwritten notes and diagrams and word associations in one corner of my desk dedicated to this single task.
Tertiary Goals are even less specific, and are goals I should set for myself to accomplish within six months.
See how my Primary Goals feed into my Secondary and Tertiary Goals? It’s all step-wise motion, and after 30 days I’ll look at my goals again and redo the whole thing. A business plan, whether it’s the official document for investors and stakeholders, or a simple draft for yourself, is a living document that changes and evolves with you and your business. You’ll notice I don’t have any one, three, five, or ten-year goals. Think back to what you were doing one-year from now…could you have possibly predicted where you’d be now? I hope my business takes me somewhere I never thought possible this time next year, never mind five years from now.
I sold advertising to pay my way through school, and one of the tools we used was Sugar CRM (customer relationship management). The idea is to document every interaction with every customer, and is something I highly suggest bringing to your business plan. Build up a log of interactions, then look at it and ask yourself what you did well and what you need to work on. Try to know exactly how you’ll respond to someone who has to push back a little on budget, or who isn’t interested in printed albums. How you move through each experience determines the consistency of future interactions.
Everyone’s had a job that just drains every ounce of motivation, leaving them a hollowed husk that just wants to go home and recharge with some TV. This is why targeting clients that energize and inspire you is so important. Stop binge watching Netflix, stop playing Candy Crush, and start hustling. If operating a creative-based business were easy, everyone would be doing it. Tons of photographers come and go, and the reality is that being an artist and a business owner is remarkable in and of itself. So keep yourself motivated and moving forward by surrounding yourself with work that keeps you inspired.