ASK THE PHOTOGRAPHER - 1ST YEAR BUSINESS ADVICE
Dear Sarah, I'm in the first year of my business. Being a small business owner yourself, I was wondering if you had advice that really helped your first year.
Hello Newbie, Welcome to the small business world! Let me start by saying I'm not an expert. I learn new things every day. Though I've had friends help me along the way, it was a lot of stumbling around in the dark on my own, running into things- sometimes hard.
When I first started I had no idea where to begin, and though I could give you advice about websites, and marketing (there are a ton of mistakes new business owners make here... do your research as much as you can), I am actually going to give you advice for the backend, the stuff that clients never see. The reason I'm going to give you this advice is because owning your own business is a roller coaster ride of emotion. Managing that emotion is going to fall squarely on your shoulders and isn't always easy.
Something I recommend is to start a journal. It sounds silly, and I wish I could say I got the advice at some professional business college... I did not.
One day, while trying to figure out how to get my new business off the ground, I got frustrated and then distracted. While googling "business models" I found a link for "healthy tips for living right" and I clicked on that instead. Yes, probably should scold myself for not staying focused, but the deviation actually helped me discover something I'm so grateful I do now.
The advice from the website (trust me, you've heard this before): Keep a food journal, you probably don't even know how many calories you are consuming. Keeping track will help you stay on goal.
This simple advice, totally unrelated to business or photography, actually got me thinking. From that minute forward I documented everything in a journal. What do I mean about everything? I seriously mean that... everything.
A simply entry might be:
Jan 5, 2015 - Researched flash equipment online, talked with a client about her summer wedding, booked an initial meeting with said client, cleaned camera gear, backed up photos...etc.
Why this helps.
1. It gives you great perspective. On the days it feels like it has been weeks or months since you actually had work, it will show you how much you actually do for your business (I currently put in about 60 hrs a week, not including mental time thinking about it and research time. Yet some weeks it feels like I've been slacking and haven't worked at all).
2. It will help record the slow months. Every business has it's own ebbs and flows. In Colorado in February, unless you need maternity photos right now, or are a brave Bride willing to deal with the cold, there aren't a lot of shoots. However, this is a busy time to book clients for weddings. By keeping track of these things, I never freak out when I'm having a slow month. I can go back to my journal and say "okay, I'm not a horrible business owner, this is just a slow time of year in general."
3. It will show how much you've grown. I was given the advice as a small business owner to figure out what I would need to survive, then cut that into quarters and expect to make 1/4 of the "need to survive" income my first couple years of business. Obviously it is great if I make more, but it is a good place to set a goal in the first years. By keeping a journal I can not only see if I've hit that 1/4 goal, but also see that I'm slowly making progress building towards more work.
4. It shows you areas to improve. We all have things that we don't like to do as often as others. By keeping a journal I can see when I'm slacking on things in my business.
I could go on and on, but this is a great way to help keep a record of that first year. Look it as a baby book, make it fun, include pictures, record accomplishments, save your first $1 you made in this book... whatever makes you happy.
Hope this helps