In 2002, without any background experience, I opened a 3000+ square foot retail portrait studio in Laguna Hills California, complete with a hair styling and a full wardrobe of clothing. I had big dreams to grow Blue Sky's Salon and Studio (our name then), into a thriving business. While we did grow and achieve a lot of success, it was overwhelmingly stressful creating my own roadmap to building the business. So here are 5 things I wish I had done from the very beginning.
1). Build a solid Database from Day One: Your clients are gold. From the very first client you need to make sure you cultivate the relationship. The best way to do this is by creating a powerful database. Make sure you have all of their personal information including their first and last name, their cell and home phone number, their home address and the names of all of the members of their family. I also try to include personal notes about their family, so each year I get to know them better and better. If you are building a family portrait business (which I hope you are considering), the more you know about your client's family, the more you become a part of their inner circle. Once you are in, they will stay with you and better yet, they will refer you to their friends. Other really important information includes the last place you did their portrait session and what they have ordered from you in the past. For my database I use shootq.com. You can find some other really great portrait management softwares by checking out the blog post 8 Best Studio Management Software for Photographers by clicking here.
2). Define Who you want as your Ideal Client: When I started Blue Sky's Studio, my kiddos were in preschool. So naturally, I started targeting families with preschool age kids. I think this is a great strategy to focus on people you know who are in your inner circle, when you first start your business. Even prior to my retail store opening, I started asking my kids preschool if I could set up a fun portrait fundraiser that would raise money for the school and allow me to have some sample images before my business actually opened. This event had nothing to do with generating income for my studio, it was solely to start to create relationships and to provide the images we would need for fliers and newsletters, etc. (believe it or not there wasn't really any social media or even email marketing when I first launched my business). These preschool families also became the first people I put into a folder with hand written notes to target as potential clients. A year later, we transferred all of these people into a database and started creating a monthly newsletter. This newsletter continued to grow and now I have 3,200 people that receive it each month. Some of those very first families still come back and shoot with Blue Sky's Studio.
3). Back up your photos: I know a lot of photographers. Most of my photography friends have been in the business for years and we can all share one horror story, losing someones images. My story beginning with a leak in the upstairs bathroom opening up and pouring water into my office. In our rush to remove all of my computer gear, my very large hard drive was knocked over and ruined. At the time, I was backing up all of my images to SmugMug, but I was in the process of retouching a 60 page album of two teenagers, who had really bad acne, and a fussy Mom. I had finally completed the album retouches and had it signed off by the family. You can guess the rest, all the retouched images were on that hard drive. I literally fell to the floor crying when I realized they were gone. I started calling data recovery services and $2500 later, they were able to recover all the retouched files. Lesson very painfully learned. I now back up all my work as I am in progress.
4). Outsource what you don't know: Are you terrible with numbers? By all means outsource your bookkeeping. Do you hate sales, then hire a sales person because without sales our business never gets off the ground. Do you need to set up all your legal documents? Hire a lawyer who know what they are doing. The most important thing is that you set everything up correctly in the beginning so you don't have problems down the line. You should focus on what you do best, take amazing portraits, and leave the things that take your time and bring you no pleasure to people who are better suited to the job. I promise you that if you focus on what you love, the clients will follow and you will have all of the energy and enthusiasm to serve them the best way possible and create an amazing experience in which they continue to come back again and again.
5). Decide to actually create a business- That means actually setting everything up like a real business from the beginning. What are you going to sell? How much will you sell it for. How many shoots do you need per month at what sales average to support yourself? How will you find your ideal client? Who will create your website? Do you have a social media marketing strategy? I know all of these things sound overwhelming, but with a little planning, you can really break each one down and make it achievable. In the coming weeks and months, I am going to share everything I do to run a profitable and successful portrait studio. I hope you continue to come back often, and please give me any feedback or ask any questions in the comments below and I will get back to you as quickly as possible.