One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give you is to simplify your business.
I don’t know about you, but feeling overwhelmed is one of the biggest problems I’ve experienced running my photography business. That feeling that you need to be doing everything… of constant plate-spinning, like you’re doing everything half-arsed, struggling to complete things… always feeling like each time you tick one thing off the list, five more get added. It’s crap, it’s draining and I firmly believe that for both sanity and efficiency’s sake, it should be a massive priority for any business-owner to get rid of it.
But how can you get rid of overwhelm and simplify your business? Happily it’s quite easy! It might sound obvious, but you just need to work out which activities to keep doing, and which to ditch!
In this article I’m going to share with you 4 simple questions that will help you decide what to stick with and what to cut out, plus 5 practical suggestions of ways you can achieve more by focusing on less in your photography business. I’ll also share with you how I applied these principles to my own business. I hope you find this helpful!
Multi-tasking is not a virtue
What I only discovered far too late in the day (after over a decade of running myself ragged!) is that LESS IS MORE. You achieve far more, by focusing on less.
Multi-tasking is not a virtue when it comes to running a business – all it does it split your attention and drain your energy and resources. In trying to do ALL THE THINGS you end up doing none of them particularly well. It’s just not possible to go into anything in depth when your time and energy is shared across too many different tasks. Heard the expression ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’? There’s a good reason why that phrase exists.
The 80/20 rule
You may well have heard about the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. It’s brill and can be applied to pretty much anything, and essentially it means that around 80% of the effects/results come from around 20% of the causes/actions. Applied to your everyday life – you wear about 20% of your clothes 80% of the time… 20% of the food you eat delivers 80% of the health benefits… you use 20% of your mobile apps 80% of the time… 20% of the people you know bring you 80% of the joy… 20% of your household appliances / tech cause you 80% of the problems etc etc. You can apply it to anything.
The beauty of this is that you can also apply it to your professional life, and choosing to simplify your business in this way can make it a whole lot more enjoyable and efficient. 20% of your clients will cause 80% of the headaches… but a different 20% of your clients will bring you 80% of your joy and income. 80% of the daily tasks you undertake will bring 20% of the benefits, and conversely, 20% of the tasks you undertake will reap 80% of the rewards.
The key is working out what small proportion of things bring (or will bring) the vast majority of the benefits, and fully zero in on those. To do this, you cut down (or eliminate) the large number of things (or things you spend a lot of time doing) that bring minimal benefits. Instead you focus more (or only) on the small number of things (or things you spend minimal time doing) that bring (or have the greatest potential to bring) the biggest benefits. You just need to follow the benefit, joy and impact – for both you and your clients.
4 key questions to ask yourself
Grab a pen and piece of paper. In relation to your photography business, I’d like you make some lists….
What are the services / activities / products you undertake/provide that:
1) Bring YOU the most benefit (or have the potential to bring you the most benefit)? This could be in terms of income or it could be in terms of enjoyment (or both! If both, asterix them).
2) Bring YOUR CLIENTS the most benefit? This could be in terms of practical impact on their lives, or in terms of how much they seem to enjoy, value and purchase them (or both! If both, asterix them).
3) Bring YOU the least benefit. This could be because you really don’t enjoy them, or because they bring you little income. Again, if both of these together, asterix them.
4) Bring YOUR CLIENTS the least benefit. This could be in terms of having little practical impact on their lives, or in terms of them not appearing to particularly enjoy, value or purchase them. Again, if both of these together, asterix them.
Hopefully now you should start to have a clear idea of the few activities / services / products that really benefit you and your clients the most – i.e those you listed for 1) and 2), especially any that are asterisked, and especially any that appear in both 1) and 2). THESE are the things you need to focus on.
Similarly, now you should start to have a clear idea of the activities / services / products that really don’t bring you or your clients enough benefit to warrant the time you spend on them – i.e those you listed for 3) and 4), especially any that are asterisked, and especially any that appear in both 3) and 4). Feel free to cut these out completely if you can – it can feel scary doing it but you will reap the rewards. If you really can’t bear to stop them completely, at least set them on the back-burner as a possible project for the future, or something you will do if asked, but you won’t actively promote.
By focusing in ONLY on a few select, highly beneficial activities you will cut out overwhelm, simplify your workload, and ensure that you do these crucially beneficial things REALLY WELL, undistracted by all the other tasks and services that just don’t really serve you or your clients particularly well. Your business will grow more, by focusing on less, and you will serve your clients so much more effectively.
5 practical suggestions to do more with less in your photography business
1) NARROW DOWN YOUR NICHE
When it comes to appealing to your ideal customer, in trying to serve everyone, you will serve no one especially well. No-one will feel like you are ‘made for them’. 20% of your clients will bring you 80% of the benefits – both joy and income. Who are that 20%? Get to know them, what makes them different to the other 80%? Really focus on serving them, and only them.
2) CUT DOWN YOUR PRODUCT LIST
Do you have a long list of physical products (frames, canvasses, albums, print boxes etc etc) and some of these hardly ever sell? It’s because either you don’t like them, or your clients don’t like them, or both. Ditch them. Then you’ll never have to spend time and energy marketing them, getting samples or selling them. Focus on the products you love to sell, and which your clients love to order or receive.
3) GET RID OF HALF-ARSED SOCIAL MEDIA
It’s a total myth that you need to be on all social media platforms. Spreading yourself too thinly will result in a luke-warm, ineffective presence on all of them (which as well as tiring you out could also reflect badly on your brand). Ditch any that you really dislike, or that you see little benefit from. You don’t have to delete your accounts if you’ve already made them, but you can always remove links to them from your website, and for the time being just focus on ONE at a time. Then spend your time on just that one, doing a really good job of it and reaping the benefits of a highly engaged community thanks to your undiluted attention. You can always grow the others later when you have the capacity… or not! If focusing on just one of them really works for you, then why change what you’re doing? There are plenty of successful businesses who have a flourishing Facebook page but no Instagram, or vice versa.
4) YOUR MARKETING
The same principle as for your social media platforms. Yes, there are a million different ways you can market yourself. But you don’t have to do all of them, and shouldn’t. Just pick ONE. Look at what has really worked for you in the past, something you enjoyed doing and that brought you business, and just focus on keeping doing that – rinse and repeat! If you’ve not tried any type of marketing before, pick the one that sounds most appealing and doable for you – the one that you feel most positivity towards when you look through a list of possible marketing ideas (I give you heaps of them here!)
5) YOUR SERVICES
Are you trying to offer a million different types of photography? If so, you’ll also only be able to give each one a nominal amount of attention. Following the Pareto Principle, if you’re seen to be offering 80% of the photography types, there can often be the assumption that you have 20% of the expertise. People usually prefer to enlist the help of someone they see as a ‘specialist’, not a ‘generalist’. Which is the type that brings you the most enjoyment and income, and has had the biggest impact and benefit for your clients? Just focus on growing and promoting that for now. There’s no reason why you still can’t offer the other services if asked, or even list them on your website. But you don’t need to be giving them all equal attention. Give the others 20% of your focus, and devote 80% to the ‘golden’ one you know will help both you and your clients the most right now.
How I personally put this into practice
As a photographer, I chose to focus only on family photography and stop wedding photography altogether. Although I do still offer (and often shoot) commercial photography and individual headshot photography, these aren’t something I particularly push or promote, or give much space to on my website. Instead I focus on families, as this is where I feel my work has the biggest impact and joy, both for me and my clients. Interestingly, a lot of the commercial work I get now is because my niche is families. I get a lot of commercial work from family-focused brands who love that I have so much experience and passion in this area. Narrowing down can actually help you expand!
Similarly, every year I cut down my product list even more – now I only include about 3 things that ACTUALLY SELL and that I personally love and would buy for myself to hang or display in my own home. This meant saying goodbye to a huge number of ‘wall art’ options – and it felt GOOOOOD! As a result, I can sell these items much more enthusiastically (as I genuinely rate them myself), and I get more people buying the few products I do offer – their focus isn’t diluted by a big, overwhelming list of options any more.
Every year I also try to niche down even further in terms of my ideal client. I become more clear about exactly who I’m speaking to, and create content that speaks very clearly to an increasingly specific type of person (i.e. ‘my kind of person!’) I worry less about trying to appeal to everyone, and just focus on talking to exactly the kind of people I most want to work with. This often means creating content that might put off some people. However, every time I do this I get far more clients as a result, and ever-increasing numbers of them are my ideal clients. It sounds so counter-intuitive but it’s true!
The biggest ‘simplify’ decision I ever made!
For my photography education, I spent years offering NINE (yes, nine!) different services for professional photographers – 1-1 in-person mentoring, 1-1 Skype mentoring, portfolio reviews, website reviews, digital downloads, The Roost family photography course, as well as the Branding Toolkit, the Marketing Toolkit and the Productivity Toolkit courses. It makes me feel tired even listing them!
What I discovered very quickly was that I was spreading myself too thinly – in trying to serve everyone with everything, I felt like I wasn’t serving anyone as well as I could do as I wasn’t able to give any of these the time and focus that I wanted to give. I was completely overwhelmed trying to manage and promote them all, and knew that this would lessen how effectively I could show up for my clients.
It was time for change!
So, I made the decision to:
1) CUT DOWN MY SERVICES
I chose to amalgamate all of these nine services into THREE simple services – The Library, The Shutterhood and the Accelerator. Both psychologically and practically, the weight that was lifted from pruning my services down from nine to just three, was instant and huge. It was so exciting knowing I could throw myself fully into just these three and give them the focused effort they deserve without being distracted. I now have time to really commit to making each of these as good as they can be – to be able to keep reviewing and making improvements to them on a regular basis and giving my clients my undiluted focus.
2) NARROW DOWN MY NICHE
As well as cutting down the services, I narrowed my niche. For The Shutterhood, I decided to niche down to specifically serve photographers in the first 5 years of their photography business.
Why did I do this? Because in all the years that I ran all the other types of education for ALL types of photographers of any level of experience – it was the photographers in those early years who I most enjoyed helping, who I found it most rewarding to assist, who needed the support the most and, as a consequence, who reaped the most benefit from my support. I realised that 80% of the joy and impact of my educational resources was in the work I did with photographers in the early years of setting up their business – so it made total sense to zero down and serve only them. Now I have even clearer focus and can help them even more efficiently than I did before, with more tailored resources, because I’m focusing only on them and their specific needs, totally undiluted by trying to help people at the other stages of their career at the same time.
As I mentioned above, niching down your focus doesn’t mean you can’t still sell and serve outside of this niche. Just as by focusing on family photography I still get plenty of commercial and headshot bookings, by focusing on serving photographers in the first 5 years of business, I still serve lots of more experienced photographers. In The Shutterhood we have a number of more experienced photographers who join because they want to ensure they have solid foundations for their business, and actually the fact that it’s designed for photographers in the early years is exactly what’s appealing to them because they know it will give them those foundations.
Similarly, many of my Accelerator clients and people who purchase the Library courses are further on in their careers. I focus 80% of my marketing on The Shutterhood, because most of my Accelerator clients tend to be people who have known about me for a while and have built up trust in me over a longer period of time, either through joining The Shutterhood or from being on my mailing list. People who buy the Library courses are often people who are interested in The Shutterhood but just want to dip their toe in to test out my individual resources first. Therefore, I just focus on promoting The Shutterhood and serving my mailing list with consistently strong and useful content, and the Accelerator places and Library courses naturally follow without me having to actively promote them too much.
I really hope these tips have been helpful to you, and that sharing with you how I apply these in my own business has given you some ideas for how you might apply them in your own.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below – are you planning to do (or have you already done!) any 80/20 pruning to simplify your business?
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