Thursday, March 24, 2011

There Are No Absolutes. Volume One, Business Basics Series

This is going to be controversial. I don’t actually seek controversial topics. Sometimes I think they seek me. They come in the form of things I hear and think, wait, that’s not right. Who tells these people these things? But the problem is that often there is a deep emotional attachment between the student and the teacher and so questioning a teacher’s teachings is suddenly perceived as an attack on their character. I don’t wish to do that, but I do wish to try to share an alternative view... and so, here goes volume one of my new business basics series. (BBP rules apply). (If you don’t know what BBPs are, you’ll need to look at some of my older posts. Hint, they can also be BGPs)

There Are No Absolutes.

I think one of the things that scares me the most in this industry is the penchant for absolutes. What is an absolute? Most commonly, it is statement that doing one thing will always lead to failure and doing another will always lead to success. The absolute is the always. Here’s a hypothetical example:

"I am successful. The key to my success was my new orange branding. If you wish to be successful then you need to have orange branding too. Make sure it’s different than mine. There are a million colors of orange. But orange branding will bring you success."

Ok, that’s pretty extreme right? But if you really think about it, it isn’t that different then a lot of the seminars you attend. Step by step guides and folks who preach specialization, separation or diversity effectively as rules are essentially teaching absolutes. Their audience is typically made up of people who are either just starting out or people who are truly struggling and who are looking for the magic bullet that will make the difference between success and failure. These folks hang on to formulas and methods they hold as gospel and sadly, in many cases this costly advice will lead to the failure of their business.

Here’s the thing. Every business is different. The chances that following one person’s formula will lead to your success are extremely slim. Success or failure of your business depends on a series of factors that will be unique to you. What is the general demographic level of your community? What is their income level? Are you in a rural area or a metropolitan area? How do people make a living? Are they farmers or financiers? A one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t work as their preferences are going to be different. More importantly, YOU are different!

In small business it is also important to understand that your business is predominantly about you. What is your acumen? What do you love? Abandoning something you love in order to specialize on something you don’t in order to make money is a very bad idea. The vast majority of small business people in the United States will tell you that the reason they are in small business is so they can do what they want to do. It is FAR wiser to find a way to turn the things you love into a going-concern then it is to abandon the thing you love because someone tells you it won’t lead to success. Your motivation is your love for your business. The money you make is the fruit of your success. When your motivation is the money you are in trouble.

So what to do? It is what you do with what you hear that makes the difference between a good and bad seminar or workshop experience. No matter how successful the teacher may be (and the best absolutely tell you this while they are teaching), you need to listen, understand the concepts and then overlay those concepts on your business. Build relationships with a few clients who you can sit down with and talk things through. Talk to non-photographers. (By all means talk to photographers too!) It is much more likely that there are tidbits that you can apply that make sense and can dramatically help your business than that a complete overhaul will drive success.

In the coming days I’m going to be taking a look at a series of topics around which there are fundamental misunderstandings in our industry. These will range from differentiation, to specialization, to the importance and purpose of branding. I’m going to be coming at these from a general business perspective and tying the unique variables related to photography into the discussion only for illustrative purposes. Hopefully understanding the fundamentals will provide a foundation upon which better decisions can be made. If that becomes the case, this will be worthwhile.




Life with Kaishon said...

So, what I am taking from this is that I must get orange branding at once... ; )

Liene Stevens said...

Great advice! Looking forward to hearing more from you. Thanks for taking the time to share your insight and wisdom.

Kelly Segre said...

Thank you Jim for taking the time to write this out...such great advice for us all!

David Wittig said...

What you said is so important! Thank you for posting.

Carlos Baez said...

As always, your BBP comments get the word out. You need all the photographers as followers, maybe they will hear what you are saying, and take some to heart. The industry would be in a better state if they did.

Allison said...

Hey, Jim - This is just as pertinent for my business as those of your clients. When are you going to write the book? Thanks for the's really helpful!

Rachel Garcia said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to write to us. I always find your advice insightful and useful.