4 Cardinal rules to business planning for photographers
You whip out a snazzy new planner. Crack the front page, and smell the freshly printed pages wafting in the office air. Or you fire up the laptop to electronically plan out the next year.
Either way – planning for a new business year can be…Fun. Overwhelming. Exciting. But oftentimes, I find that many plans are lacking critical rule application. And elements of a business plan aren’t readily seen as impacting your business negatively until it is too late. Typically, halfway through the second or third quarter, you look up and realize “this isn’t really working the way I wanted it to.” And by then, it is pretty much too late. So that is why I want to walk you through these critical application of rules to plan BEFORE you business plan.
No, it doesn’t require a fancy MBA degree or financial spreadsheets.
It also doesn’t require you to change any sales model, acquire new products, or find your new ideal client.
It requires focusing on what matters most.
Now, don’t click away. I’m not going to get into feel-good emotional stuff. Mostly. I am going to walk you through four cardinal rules to business planning so that you are profitable, balanced and (hopefully) happy when the end of the year (next year!) rolls around.
#1 Have Non-Negotiables
There is no point in doing business if you are run into the ground, burnt out, or unable to give to your family or your clients. It is important that you start planning by figuring out what is non-negotiable in your life.
Because, business should come after life.
So sit back and think – what is it that you want to do for you in the new year? Maybe it’s take up a new sport, learn an instrument, or take cooking classes.
Schedule them. Get them on the calendar. Once they are blocked off, there is no (relatively) going back. Guess what? It also makes it easier not to give in to a client or self-imposed demands to work during that time.
For example, triathlon training is a huge self-improvement activity for me. It helps to increase health, combat affects of my medication (required daily from the cancer – but I’m in remission!), lowers stress, and self-fulfills for a sense of personal accomplishment. This goes on my color-coded calendar as a non-negotiable.
Other non-negotiables could include your kid’s activities, partner’s personal goals, and carving out time for your friends.
#2 Set Boundaries
Set boundaries with your clients. This is one rule that many of you will just throw off, then little by little the line will change and before you know it..POOF…you feel like there are no boundaries.
Just like the example above, when I didn’t have the workout time on the calendar – things stated to encroach. I started to let client emails come during that time. When in reality, the clients could’ve waited one more hour.
As you can see, scheduling is one way to set boundaries. Another way would be to have set work hours.
Other ways include policy sheets, client guides, contracts, and automated functions. Systems like Boomerang can allow you to type an email in your “off hours” but then it will email during your office hours. This way, if you had to shift your hours one day to accommodate a preschool Christmas party or orthodontist appointment, you can play catch up without setting the wrong expectations by clients.
Another way I like to set boundaries to accomplish things for ME is to set rewards. If you write XXX words in your book, you can get on social media time. Sounds like I’m not disciplined enough and have to do that right? No, I do that because I am disciplined. I understand it is too easy to fall into the rabbit hole of social media.
#3 Budgeting it ALL
In order to set boundaries and do things for your family first, you must start with a time and money budget. Every year, my husband and I sit down to plan family first what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how much money we need. This can include home repairs or family vacations. Combining this with regular budgetary needs, I have a better view of how to structure my business goals and plans.
The calendar + money shapes the numbers of hours per week to work (including the number of client sessions) and highlights any pricing changes that I may need to take.
Take for example, there is a leaky shower in need of repair. That will go into the budget line of what is needed for the family, on top of the normal salary requirements. This way we don’t have to dig into extra savings that we’ve built.
Personal and family financial inclusions to the budget are savings, retirement, debt reduction, anticipated medical expenses, etc.
#4 Plug Leaks
Once you’ve gone through rules 1-3, don’t skip rule #4 or else your work may be for nothing. Go through the personal and business budget to see if there are any leaks of time and money.
First, spend a week recording what you do in 15-minute increments. This is much like dieting; you have a more accurate food log when you are forced to write it down. Check it out and see how much time you spent surfing social media (including Facebook groups!) or other extra activities that are getting in the way. This is plugging your leaking time.
You can also plug leaking time by evaluating your time spent per client. Are there things you automate or hire out? Contracts, feedback requests, editing, album design, etc.
Second, go through all subscriptions and other expenditures to ensure that you are using what you’re paying for. This is plugging your leaking money. Did you notice that you spent $XXX on equipment or props last year? Time to use it or sell it. Use the rule of – if you haven’t touched it in six months or have a BOOKED project within the next three that you will use it – then pitch it.
By going through the painstaking process of identifying all costs (time and money), you will maximize what you have and may not need to increase your pricing as it will stretch your funds. OR it will help add more to business reinvestment or to that home repair you need to do.
As you can see, planning isn’t just about identifying who your target client is, how much you want to make, and writing how you’re going to do it. You need to have these rules established before you plan. Think of it like building a house – these are your foundation. You’re going to have a stronger business built on a stronger foundation if you’ve gone through the process to ensure it is solid.
Now, I won’t lie to you – this isn’t all you need to do. This is just a bit of insight into the foundation for planning for a successful year.