Oh you know how I love the juicy stuff! This question was a hot one so I had to dive in. Let’s get started!
From Christy: Thx hpp for considering answering our questions! It was mentioned in one of the hhp utube videos that you never took a (financial) leap with hhp because the business was always “there”. Can you explain how you got “there”? Was it because you were a shoot and burn first? I want a studio business model badly but am new to the business and don’t have the client base. Despite how negative folks are toward shoot and burners it seems like the best (financially lowrisk) business model to build your client base which would then allow one to expand into a larger business plan like hhp’s. Would love your thoughts on this. Thx again and happy Friday to you all at hhp!
Such a great question Christy and you are very smart for considering this!
Let me start by saying this: I think “shoot and burn” is kind of a silly phrase. I know of some very high-end photographers who offer “digital only” products. I don’t feel negatively about “shoot and burns” and I do think offering digitals has some benefits like the lower overhead you mentioned. You also can’t ignore what your consumers want of you and consumers like to have the digital files. The important thing is to price your product (digital disk or anything else) in a way that properly supports the profit of your business. This is why people may feel negatively about some “shoot and burners”, while they respect the photographer who offers digitals in a way that actually supports their business. Does that make sense?
While I probably was a “fauxtographer” by some people’s standard of the word, I always offered a product line. Of course, most people didn’t purchase it because I had no understanding of how to appropriately design my product offerings. The reason I’ve always offered products is because I feel strongly about the lasting value they provide to clients and to my brand. I think there are some downsides to offering ONLY the disk that limit your business. Check out this old blog post from last year on why I think it is important to offer more than the digitals: Why Digital Negatives are Probably Wasting Your Money
So the way that we were “there” early on in our business is because the industry was completely different 5 years ago. When I started HHP I was doing things in my area that just weren’t around at the time. The number of newborn photographers shooting in the currently popular style could have been counted on one hand. There were some pioneers in the industry like Baby as Art and Kelley Ryden and Tracy Raver who were very inspirational to me when I began, but most people had no idea this kind of photography existed. I would try to explain to my friends and family: “I photograph babies…. kind of like what you see in an Anne Geddes calendar!” There were no newborn workshops (that I knew of). You couldn’t YouTube how to do everything. When I started doing “cake-smashes”… I don’t think the word even existed. For our first 2 years in business we had virtually no competition doing what we were doing.
Obviously times have changed. That is the nature of business. So what do you do to build your client base with all this competition? Way to challenge me this week, Christy!
My answer is that you have to build a better business than ever before. Marketing is more important. Sales. Customer service. Branding. Advertising. Social Media. Product Line. Creativity. Originality. Skill level. You have to offer something different and of value.
My simplified advice (we talk for days about this in our workshops) would be first to plan your business. I can’t say it enough. This is your foundation and it is more important now than ever. Calculate your overhead for the year (everything you spend money on related to your business), your cost of goods (which would be the cost of your disks and packaging if that is all you’re selling right now), and what you want to pay yourself (what is your time worth?). Once you have that number, you will know what you need to pull in every year just to stay out of debt. Not many people look to start a business that loses money! Then divide that number by the number of sessions you shoot. You’ve got the magic number for your disk!
That should be your starting point. If that number is more than you feel people will pay for your work at this time, you could possibly offer a few “portfolio building sessions” at a discount or even for free. Here is the key though. This should be a small handful of sessions. If all you are shooting for a year is discounted and free sessions, you aren’t really in business yet. You’re still in training. And that’s okay! We all start somewhere. In my opinion, learning is the fun part… it’s much less serious! Actually, I think it’s a pretty awesome place to be. Enjoy working on your craft and developing your brand and business before you launch your business full time. You could even try second shooting or working for another photographer! Those are options that can help you get to that point where you have a product that people want to buy.
Most importantly, remember this: If you are building your client base with pricing that won’t support your business you are wasting your efforts. That “client base” probably won’t be there when you raise your prices to adequately sustain your business model. Worse, you may be damaging your future brand. If your dream is to have a bigger business model like HHP now does, you need to start running your business that way from the start!
I’m here to tell you, you can do it! Plan your business first and you will have the confidence to run it in a way that fulfills your dreams! I’ll be here cheering you on!
Your friend, Heidi
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