When business is down turn to those you know.
It’s that time of year. You’re either booking up (and generally happy) or you’re not (and generally panicked). It’s the time of year when the stress starts to show up on Twitter. It’s the time of year when you begin to wonder if the market has gone away or if it’s you. In truth, it’s a little bit of both.
Many small businesses, and particularly photographers, serve a luxury segment. The products we provide aren’t a necessity. People don’t need great pictures to survive. (at least they think they don’t). $4.00 gas prices (closing in on $4.50 here in Los Angeles), and the continued stresses of the world feed angst in the minds of every consumer. ‘Should I spend this money or save it?’ Given a choice, most will choose to save until they feel better. That’s a reality and not one you can do much about. This just raises the importance of all of the inquiries and all of the opportunities that do cross the desk. It also raises the importance of your own outreach activities.
Frankly, the benefit and the challenge of running your own business is that your success or failure depends completely on you. What you are doing to grow and succeed will make that difference. What are you doing? Running a small business is an active process. Here’s a few thoughts about what you should be doing.
1). Know that your future customers will for the most part come through your network of current and past relationships. What are you doing today to remind people who you’ve worked with that you exist? What are you doing to remind them of the fun they had with you and the time you spent? What are you doing to keep them up to date with your craft and your business?
2). An ounce of personal trumps a million-billion-zillion pounds of impersonal. It takes time, but for photographers, sending along a favorite image as a way to reconnect will make the difference between invoking a favorable emotional response and being unheeded. “I was going through some past work and I tripped over this image. I wanted you to have it. I had such fun working with you and hope you are doing well. If you ever need photography services again, give me a buzz. It’d be fun to see you.” This will work so much better than, “ABC Photography services announces the introduction of family portraits.”
3). Generally speaking, the internet is not your friend. When customer inquiries slow down it is so easy to look to branding and internet marketing professionals as a way to try to increase your visibility. After all, the customers are out there. There must be a reason they’re not finding you. There is some truth to that. But it is VERY important to understand that for successful small businesses, less than 10% of the total customers come through paths other than referral or repeat. That means that 9 out of every 10 customers is someone who you are already connected with. What are you doing to encourage their call?
4). Do you have a “marketing day?” Given a choice between ranking time or money as most important to their business almost all small businesses (about 85%) choose time. This is understandable. Running a small business is a lot of work. Here’s the thing. If you don’t set aside time to market your business, and observe a discipline around how you use that time, then your business is going to struggle because you will always be reactionary. Good marketing takes thought and time. It is not something you can simply do between things. My recommendation is to take one morning a week. (and not Monday) and set it aside to purely focus on marketing activities.
5). Don’t get fat and happy. It is a sad truism that today’s very successful small business is often tomorrow’s failing small business. The reason is because the person who IS the business often gets distracted by the elements of success and forgets to focus on the labor that got them there. Then when the business starts to go away they will find other reasons for their challenges. “The market has gone away!” “These damn new folks are underpricing me!” Really? Or is it possible that you got so tied up in your success that you forgot that the customer relationships that were feeding new business were what was most important to getting you there?
I always say what’s next is what’s important. It’s actually a reminder to me. It is so easy to get caught up in celebrating the minor successes of the past. While it is important to take time out to acknowledge the milestones, it is even more important to make sure one is always moving forward. Always trying something new and always adapting. What’s next is what’s important. What’s next for you?