Mind your own business
We've all heard it somewhere. The majority of small businesses fail within their first year. So how does any enterprise manage to stay afloat, let alone thrive?
Plan for and *measure* successIt's one thing to have business and marketing plans and sales and financial forecasts, it's another thing to review them quarterly (or before year's end) and re-assess if they're actually working for your type of business. Maybe the plan was to cater to families and cover all of their photography needs from cradle to reunions but you've discovered you'd rather linger over the flowers in the bride's bouquet. Do your business building (and retaining) efforts reflect your change in focus?
Then there's advertising. A good ad may attract new clients but what do we have for them afterwards? More ads? Luckily, marketing offers many opportunities to connect with new and existing clients *without* talking about sales and deals. By getting to know clients' needs and interests through on-going communication (it has to be a two-way street), we're much more likely to be top of mind when they are in the market to buy or when there's a chance for a referral. Ultimately, building these relationships has the greatest value, individual impact, and fosters loyalty - and keeps the marketing budget in line.
What to do if you don't know a P&L report from a Cash Flow statement or the purpose of a DBA? Ask the experts. Frequently, it's free or low-cost and can be done online if there's no local SBA office in the area. The Small Business Administration wants us all to be "job creators" and have created a pretty solid framework to help owners learn the ropes. With classes in everything from creating and understanding financial statements (aka "How to Know if Your Going to Run Out of Money within 3 Months of Launch") to marketing via traditional means and online to applying for a small business loan. They also provide one-on-one guidance usually provided by other small business owners who've been down the same road.
This falls under the (sometimes dreaded) heading of "networking". If the idea of "elevator pitches" leaves you cold (what are we creative types or wall street bankers here?) but you can (and will) chat up strangers in the grocery line, then you can network. Between sharing an anecdote or asking someone for advice or expertise, there's usually a way to work in what you do and why you do it. In the digital age, this can extend to hosting regular video chats, skype-ing, and any number of communal virtual activities yet to be launched.
Since there's no guarantee of instant wealth when starting a business (or ever for that matter), it pays to measure fulfillment and find inspiration in something other than dollars and cents. Keeping current with new equipment and techniques, talking or shooting with other photographers, and using photography skills for the benefit of the community can balance out the almost daily disappointments or frustrations that come with running any small business.
As 2012 comes to a close, share how you're minding your own business by commenting here, via FB, or tweet with #mindyourphotobiz.
Keywords: small business issues, re-invention, mentorship, photography, photographer's tools, online marketing, small business owners, new business owners, new year
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