Episode 5: 3 Ways Your Photography Business Can Survive Any Disruption
with Sarah Petty
If you’re in business long enough, you’re going to hit some kind of disruption outside of your control. It could be something like a flood or a tornado, a health issue with a family member, or even a worldwide pandemic. If you’ve ever found yourself worrying about how you’re going to keep your business going when everything around you seems like it’s falling apart, you’re in the right place. Just because your life is in chaos, it doesn’t mean your business has to suffer. Here are three ways your photography business can survive any disruption, while still being there for your family.
I want to start by sharing a few disruptions that have been thrown at me in my photography business. If you’ve listened to previous podcasts, you’ve heard the story of my first photography studio. I spent all summer fixing up a space to be my photography studio. I had my major grand opening on August 30 of 2001, just two weeks before 9/11 in 2001. After September 11th, the market was so insecure, but I didn’t really know any different. I had these babies at home, and I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the economy. But because I did certain things, my business got through it. Same thing in 2008-2009, when the housing market crashed and the economy took a turn for the worst again. Because of how I had structured my boutique photography business, I was able to survive that.
The Hardest Thing My Photography Business Survived
One of the hardest things that I was able to survive, and it always gets me emotional, wasn’t even an economic crash or a pandemic. It was about my dad. He was an entrepreneur and taught at the college level. He also suffered from congestive heart failure. As it progressed, the doctors here said, “This is it. There’s nothing we can do for him.” We kept thinking there’s got to be something. I have an awesome sister-in-law who gets the healthcare system way more than I do, and she said, “Let’s take him up to Chicago. It’s about four hours away. I know they can help him. It’s time to go to a bigger city.”
So we went up to Northwestern, and they were able to put in a heart pump. They put this device in and it was like he was 30 years younger, it was insane. But the challenge was, every time something went wrong with that device, we couldn’t take him to our local hospital because they couldn’t service that device. He was airlifted once in a helicopter, he was rushed in an ambulance, we took him. It was crazy, but it was just what we did.
We got over five bonus years with my dad, but it was really a challenge because sometimes we had to stay in Chicago with him for days, or even weeks. My brother and I didn’t want to leave our father all alone. Truly, I don’t know that my dad could have made it through that situation if we were not able to be there with him. And at the end of the day, it was an amazing time that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My baby, who’s the youngest grandchild, was seven when this all happened. When he did die, she was 12 or 13, instead of 7 when this all started. She remembers him, but wouldn’t have if he had died at that original time when in town they said there was nothing they could do for him.
How to Put Family First in a Crisis
I was even able to run my photography business from Chicago. I always talk about family first, but I pride myself on never, ever, almost never ever, rescheduling clients. I’ve rescheduled probably five times in 22 years. But when I say family first, that doesn’t mean I run a sloppy business. It just means I run my business around my family. So when I was splitting my time between Chicago with my dad and Springfield with my business, I’d come back home and I would shoot back to back. Then I would go back to Chicago. Then I would come home and I would present back to back. I kept my business going.
My business partner and I wrote our New York Times Bestselling book, Worth Every Penny, practically from my dad’s hotel room. I couldn’t have done it if I wasn’t an entrepreneur. I ran my business around my family, spent time with my dad, and used the other time to work on our book. But family always came first.
Good News: How Your Photography Business Can Survive
The good news is that the photography industry, we’re not like the airline industry or the hotel industry. As a photographer, we can insulate ourselves against times like this, if we adjust our business model. Customers that go to people based on price are going to go to the cheapest photographers. But when you compete on price (trying to make yourself the cheapest photographer), you’re going to struggle when the economy is down, because there’s always someone willing to do it cheaper.
However, the boutique business model can withstand a disaster. It’s the best way to get your photography business to survive. You may be asking, what does boutique do? Boutique means you create artwork that makes people feel amazing. Your photography clients look at the artwork on their walls and it gives them goosebumps. Guess what? People are looking for happiness right now. They’re looking for healing. After an economic disruption, I predict that boutique photographers are the ones who will help people. We’re the ones helping the people in the market who have disposable income and need to heal. There are people who have money to invest and money to spend right now. It’s not everybody, but at the end of the day, we can’t serve everybody anyway.
The thing is we can make more money, but we cannot make more time. Let’s take this time as a gift and get our head in the game and be proactive with how we’re going to bulletproof our business. One of the things that I practice is not giving energy toward an outcome I don’t desire. Write that down: I do not give energy to an outcome I don’t desire. Instead, take advantage of this time to get your business ready to weather any storm.
What You Can Do to Save Your Photography Business Right Now
Instead of shaking in the corner crying, there are three things you can do to keep moving forward. We can’t make more time, so take this time to learn a new skill. It’s hard enough to find time learning when life is happening, so when the economy is in a lull, take that time to improve your business. Take the time to learn something new. Whether it’s improving your Photoshop skills, learning how to sell in person, or figuring out how to attract the right clients, there are so many things you can learn right now.
If you don’t know where to start, pick up a marketing book, sign up for some free training, or find someone to be your mentor. There are so many resources out there to help you with improving your photography business, you just have to take the first step to look for them. Keep in mind, this is a time to invest in your business, meaning it’s okay to spend some money
The Truth About Business Relationships
Number two, build relationships by helping others. I know you might be thinking, “Oh my gosh, but I’m suffering. How can I help anyone? I have nothing to give.” Well, the good news is, this is not a sprint. We don’t come in and discount and attract cheap, price-sensitive clients. That’s not how we build a sustainable brand. This is a long-term investment in what we are doing, like a marathon. Instead of sitting there and feeling sorry for yourself and suffering, get out there and take the emphasis off you and go help someone else. Before you know it, you’re going to look up and you’re going to be right back in the race. It’s the law of reciprocity and it’s a real thing.
If you play the long game and don’t just try to sprint out all your goodwill at once, you can actually build meaningful business relationships. There are entrepreneurs, other business owners, who you maybe have been trying to meet and you haven’t been able to meet them because they’ve been so busy. As photographers, we partner with business owners a lot, and when you spread out your relationship building like a marathon, you’re going to have more resources and a larger network down the line.
What You Didn’t Know About Marketing Your Photography Business
Number three, fill your marketing tank. What are future marketing activities that you never have time for? Sit down and think about how you can serve your clients when businesses open up. It’s an opportunity that’s brand new that’s created itself that’s something that you can do to put awesomeness out into the world. I know that marketing is one of those things that often gets put to the back burner, and there isn’t enough time to get it done. So, fill that marketing tank when the world is in a lull. Go figure out activities that can help your photography business survive. When the world starts opening up again, you’re going to thank yourself that you started now.
If you manage your business, keep in a positive headspace, and work on your business even when things aren’t the best, you can be prepared for any unforeseen storms that head your way. If you’re in business long enough, the road will absolutely get bumpy, so you might as well learn to navigate the bumpy weather sooner rather than later. We can always make more money, but we can’t make more time. This time is a gift. The question is, how are you going to invest your time right now?
I'm Sarah Petty
I’m a photographer living in the middle of a cornfield (central Illinois), momma of three teenage kiddos (plus a cat & dog) and an educator for all things photography business. Favorites: Earl Grey Tea (not coffee!), anything orange and clothes that are made for tall girls