The Business of Photography: What’s the Plan?

This series of articles, written by Jerry Weiner – CEO and owner of PWD Labs – provides tips and insight into the business end of professional photography.  Feedback, questions, and ideas for future articles are all welcome.

There are any number of excellent courses, webinars and conferences that will help you implement your marketing plan.  You can pick up tips and strategies for wooing clients, up-selling products and expanding your business, but before you do any of this, you need a plan.  A good marketing plan provides you a context within which to operate and a road map of where you are going.  As Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Planning doesn’t have to be a formal process led by an MBA, nor does it need to produce a huge, leather-bound volume to display proudly on your bookshelf.  However, it does require some serious work, and it’s work that only you — the business owner — can do.

Planning is a process whereby you ask many questions and explore possible scenarios that could evolve based on a set of actions that you undertake.  Long-range planning allows for more abstract considerations such as the impact of changes in technology, economics, politics, social attitudes and the like.  Short-range planning concerns more specific matters such as product offerings, pricing & packaging, and advertising.  To be effective, short-range plans should be relevant to long-range goals; if you’re not making annual progress toward where you want to be in 10, 15 or 20 years, then it will only be a remarkable coincidence if you end up there.

Where to start?  Here are some tips for building your own marketing plan and questions to ask yourself during the process:

Long-range Plan Development:

  1. Where are you now and where do you want to be in the future?  Are you a wedding photographer now that wants to transition to a portrait shooter by the time your gear gets too heavy to carry around for 6 hours?   Be realistic when answering this question, but also feel free to dream a little.  Long-range planning allows you to dream simply because you don’t have to realize it tomorrow.
  2. What is the environment going to be like along the way?  What changes in trends, economics, technology and the like will affect what you do and how you do it?  Formal planning literature refers to this step as Scenario Construction.  This is the time to play “What if…?” games, and you don’t have to worry about being “right.”  Think through what could affect or disrupt your business and what you would do to overcome it.
  3. Establish realistic targets at various points along the way so you will know if you are making progress.  Following the example above of the transition from weddings to portraits, you may want to have portraits represent another 10% of your business every 3 years between now and the time you want to realize the goal.
  4. Review and update your long-range plan every few years or whenever circumstances warrant.

Short-range Plan Development:

  1. Define and evaluate the marketing channels you use now and the resources you commit to each.   Be sure to include advertising, groups you belong to, relationships with planners and other referrers, your web site, etc.  Is each channel producing the client leads you expect?  (Note:  If you are not keeping statistics on where your leads come from, add this to your plans.  This is something you must do.  Remember KIP: Knowledge Is Power.)
  2. Step back.  Are there any marketing channels you are not developing now that might make sense?  If so, make some plans for how you are going to approach them.  This is especially important if want to make a transition over time; there may be channels you don’t need today but will need later.
  3. Put your plan down on paper.  A few pages of key points with some measurable targets should do it — bullet points will suffice.  Again, a fancy document is not what you’re after; the process of putting a plan together is what will benefit you.
  4. Think about whether or not this plan will move you towards your long-range goals.  If not, you need to rethink one or the other.  Otherwise, have confidence in your own ability to make it happen.  Not everything will work exactly the way you plan, but you can always make adjustments when you build your next short-range plan.

The concept of planning may seem elementary, and it’s likely you already have at least some of this floating around in your head, but putting even a few thoughts down on paper will make it much more concrete.  You may think you know where you’re going, but do your current actions and statistics really support this?  There’s only one way to find out if you’re truly on the right path, and that’s to decide where you’re going and how to get there.