If you’re a traffic engineer, one way streets are pretty useful. One way streets get cars from one end of town to the other pretty efficiently. The way cities evolve tends toward businesses to be concentrated in a relatively small geographic area. If you live in just about any major city, there is probably a one way pair that makes your commute a little easier. The big problem with one way streets is that they are only useful if you are taking a highly trafficked and well-trodden path. This is fine if you’re in a car, but not very useful if you’re trying to be successful in business. If you’re starting a photography business, you want to avoid one way streets.
Avoid One Way Streets
One way streets are one of the biggest obstacles you will face when starting your business. There is a lot of literature both in books and on the web trying to convince you that there is one right way to do things. I can’t count how many articles I’ve seen titled ‘Ten Thins All Successful People Do’ or some other derivation. These types of articles are designed to attract attention more than they are designed to help you. Spending an hour trying to understand the needs of your audience will be much better spent than spending an hour reading self-help articles.
The truth is there is really no single thread that will lead you to success. Volumes could be written about lazy businesses implementing brainless actions simply on the basis that everyone else is doing it. I feel an ‘if everyone else jumped off a bridge…’ lecture coming on. Just because the tog down the street has three packages he sells to his clients doesn’t mean that’s right for your business. You can’t make decisions for your company based on what is (or you think is) working for someone else without researching your audience (you have an audience right?). You have a business, and that business has a whole set of issues needing solutions. Be in the business of finding those solutions whether someone else is using them or not.
Don’t Take All Advice
In most aspects of life and business, being nice and agreeable will get you a very long way. Just being liked can get your business off the ground — this can’t be overstated. What I would advocate is something I call being internally disagreeable, especially with those closest to you. I say this because you may feel obligated to take advice from a close friend or family member, even if that advice is not in your best interest. No one knows more about your business than you do, so you need to take advice with a grain (or gram) of salt. Start a habit of challenging every idea before it has a chance to take hold on your business.
For example, you know several people who have started using a certain merchant service for collecting payment from their customers and you think it might be time to set up a similar payment gateway. Everyone you know is using this service and they seem very happy with it. It would be easy to just go to the merchant’s website and sign up. Upon further examination, this merchant charges you 3% of each transaction along with a per transaction fee of .25 cents for using this service.
This fee structure may or may not be reasonable, but that is beside the point. What are your average sale amounts? If you make a lot of transactions in low dollar figures, that seemingly low transaction fee could kill you. Is there a merchant that will offer you a 2.75% or 2.5% rate? Do your customers want to pay with credit or debit cards? You may assume they want to, but that is not necessarily the case, especially if your clients are older. Does using this payment method increase or decrease your sales? By how much? The point here is to not assume anything. Every decision you make could be critical to your business, so think critically and base your decisions on research.
What you shoot is YOUR business
Not too long ago I read a photography business article for which I’ll never recover the time I wasted. The essence of the article was that if I wanted to be financially successful as a photographer, then I needed to incorporate weddings into my portfolio of services. The basis for this claim was that every time the author went to his local camera shop, the ones buying all the fun toys were wedding photographers.
This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Firstly, just because someone is buying a fancy new toy doesn’t mean they are financially successful — there is an equal chance that it means the very opposite. Second, and more importantly, even if the statement were true (which it isn’t) it wouldn’t mean that shooting weddings is right for you. Nor would it mean that you would succeed financially if you did become a wedding photographer. Do weddings even interest you?
There is no more important decision you will make in your photography business than what you will shoot. The content of your images is essentially your business. The photography industry has fixated on a handful of the most common and ‘distinguished’ genres of photography. This type of groupthink is what you should be trying to avoid. Don’t rush to pigeonhole yourself into a type of business you might not even like. Just like you would date a lot of people before settling on one you want to spend the rest of your life with, deciding what to shoot is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Forge Your Own Path
The world is full of opinions, most of them worth less than what you pay for them. business decisions are difficult, but it’s important not to accept what we see others doing as gospel. The hard work of a business is simply finding out what works and why. Don’t assume everyone but you knows exactly what they are doing, believe me they don’t. The most successful photographers I know have taken the time to develop a unique approach that makes sense for their own needs. Making the decision to avoid one way streets early will help you build a business that works for you.
photo credit: Ryan McGuire