Not too long ago, a good friend set out on her own to start a new photography business. She got her studio (looks great), she put up her shingle, and she started her marketing. Then, she said to me, “Hey, you should write something for people starting their businesses on Ground Glass.” So here’s to her, and here are tips 1-10 on starting your own business. Tips 11-20 will come tomorrow.
1. You can’t take it with you
Time goes fast. Faster than you can imagine. Sometimes you’ll hit everything right, sometimes you won’t. Either way, the moments of glory are fleeting, the money is never enough, and though the images may grow in emotional value, all but the most exceptional ones will deflate in business value as styles change and you do, too. You’ll have two things at the end of it all. The relationships you build, and the insight you acquire. They will give you fulfillment, and they will keep you on your toes. If you focus on these two things, luck will find you.
2. Believe in yourself
The first thing on everyone’s mind is how to get money quickly. If you need to pay the bills, by all means, get them paid. But don’t let it bog you down. My video team shot 55 weddings the second year doing it. This was a huge number to us, and it was a huge disaster. The money was great, but we barely managed to stay on top of our backlog for the next 3 years. That money came at the expense of growth, improvement, and fun. I have no doubt it cost us more than it gained.
At some point, every business owner needs to make the transition from the day-to-day to the future. Even when you’re just getting the bills paid, try to free up a little time to soak it all in, process it, and make plans for tomorrow. Believe that putting time in for yourself is essential, even if it means letting go of a little bit of business. Letting go of the present frees up space for the future.
3. Don’t get stuck on metrics
People pop on and off the radar faster than you can say “rockstar.” Metrics like money, followers, hits, and likes are fun and addictive, but they’re no substitute for quality. Deep and specific is almost always better than shallow and broad. Don’t machine gun your sales, marketing, and networking activities. Treat it like a sniper. Pick what you want, and perfect it. One devoted fan will spread your gospel far better than 1000 random followers.
4. Don’t listen to anyone who says it can’t be done
The only way to know something will work is to see that it’s already been done. The only way to innovate is to do something that hasn’t been done. See the dilemma? If you believe in something, go for it. If it’s really revolutionary, most people will say it can’t be done, because it will threaten them. Your success will challenge their beliefs, it will make them feel smaller for not thinking of it or not trying it, and it will make them jealous. Being bold is hard enough. Forget about the naysayers, forget about the doubts. Be proud of what you do. Whether you succeed or fail, never stop trying, and never stop believing. Don’t be too hard on the naysayers, either, though. It’s a natural human reaction, and they’ll come around.
5. Never blow off anyone, but don’t take everyone in
You’re never better than anyone. You’re never worse. But some clients will help you grow, and some won’t. Don’t be unkind to anyone. No one deserves that, and most people don’t realize they’re being irritating. But don’t let them sink the ship. Some people are going to be sinkholes for your business, and it’s alright to just say “No.”
6. Never be afraid to fail
All greatness risks failure.
7. Give anything away you want, but not your core product or service
Give advice. Give gifts. Give help. You are in business to give. Giving is helping. But never give away the thing that’s keeping you in business. Don’t give away the product or service. Don’t give away your talent. It sets up the wrong expectations, and it devalues you. Do you want to be referred because you’re cheap or because you take great pictures?
8. Sweat the small stuff
It’s not the big things that differentiate you. It’s the sum total of every small thing. The opportunities to create a brand, create an impression, and leave your mark are in every detail of what you do. How you write your email, how you say hello. Whether you go the extra distance in delivering your pictures, how you stay in touch with your clients, what you blog about, and how often you do it. Do them well.
9. Don’t sweat the big stuff
Don’t let the big things get you down. They’ll feel like the weight of the world, but usually, you won’t be able to do anything about them. At least not easily. They’ll just leave you paralyzed. Get back to the small stuff. Working on the small things will keep you moving, make you feel better, and actually help solve the big things.
10. Advertising is a first or last resort. Skip the rest.
There are two times advertising works. The first is when you’re getting things going, and you need someone to take notice of you. Usually, this is going to be in cheaper publications that target people looking for bargains. The second is when you’ve really made it and brand awareness is your objective. Those publications are usually going to be exclusive ones that reach people who don’t care about the money. For everything in the middle, use the time and money you save from running ads to run your business, give more to your clients, and insulate your business. Amazon cut out their marketing and created the Amazon Prime program. What do you think endeared them more to their customers?