In September, I plan to spend some time back at the college where I studied photography. Not as a student, but as a guest, talking to the current cohort of students about lessons I’ve learnt over the last couple of years.
I won’t list all the lessons here, the details would become a tome. I’ll pick out a few points though which I hope might be useful to those who are setting up new businesses.
It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of building a business. The name, the website, the business cards …. to mention just a few. However, it is extremely important to plan. Before worrying about the finer details, think about the goals of your business. What is it that you deliver, and who are your customers? Do the market research to find out what others already do in the same sort of line. What makes you different? Why should people come to your business instead of going to others? Is there a market for what you are offering?
I invested a lot of time and money into designing my original logo, trademarking my business name, and preparing marketing materials. Three years later, I still come across some of the early business cards. Two-sided, which makes them smart to look at but no use any longer, even for shopping lists.
I liked this business name and logo. I saw in it a combination of some of my main interests; space, animals, and photography. I rushed ahead and had the design copyrighted, before preparing stationery and marketing publications, and beginning to build a website. I had travelled quite a way developing the brand before a conversation with another photographer highlighted something which would have been obvious if I had slowed down.
Reading my business card, ‘Em Moon Cat Photography’, the photographer remarked that it was nice that I specialised in cat photography, but had I ever considered branching out a bit? Of course, he was reading that my name was Em Moon, and I took photos of cats. I was reluctant to admit it, but turning the comment over in my mind for a few days, I knew that I needed to change.
This was a big lesson. Having spent a lot of money on a logo and name which I liked, I hadn’t stopped to see it through the eyes of others. In developing my current logo, I did my research, including asking people’s opinions, before finalising the design.
I continued to rush. Uploading pictures to my site, posting to my social media pages, photographing a bit of everything. But what was my pitch to those who wanted to know more?
As a business, it is important to be able to define what you do. What is your 40 second introduction to potential customers? You might need more than one introduction, depending on who the customers are. I have different lines to explain the various types of photography I specialise in, highlighting what makes my approach different.
When I started out, I wouldn’t have been clear on what exactly I specialised in. My pitch tended to run along the lines of “I photograph anything other than weddings”.
I photographed pets, landscapes, still life, sport, street life, and much more. The images went onto my website in some sort of order, but without any clear definition of my work as a photographer.
I still enjoy photographing a wide range of things, but I’ve separated the business photography from the photography for pleasure. The specialist areas have gone through a few iterations as I’ve progressed. These changes have been driven largely by the way my own portfolio has developed, and customer feedback. This is another area where there is room to save money. Be clear on your business focus and specialisms before rushing to buy materials to advertise.
I hope these thoughts are of some use. I’ll pick up the thread again soon as there have been other lessons more recently which I’d like to share. For example, where to find free business training, and what to expect when you take the plunge and publish your business contact details.