To build a scalable and sustainable photography business, you must first acknowledge that there’s a difference between “being a photographer” and “running a photography business.”

Not only is there a difference, you can actually do either – without doing the other! You can be a photographer without running your own business, if you work for someone else. Or, you can run a photography business without ever clicking a shutter. For many of us, however, we find ourselves standing squarely in between both worlds. We are photographers who are balancing being creatives and learning to be business professionals who happen to be creative.

The tension of being “both” is what causes us to struggle when it comes to growing our business. In fact, our roles as photographer and business owner sometimes find themselves with conflicting interests as we examine what it means to expand and grow our business. Often we are faced with choices that we would handle very differently as a business owner, compared to as a photographer.

Building a business that is sustainable requires us to discover ways we can scale what we’re currently doing, as well as expand and offer new products and services. Whether it’s starting an associate brand, or venturing from weddings into Senior Portraits, there are things you can do to set your business up for success.

Here are 4 things that will help you build a scalable and sustainable photography business:

1. Focus on Your Core

If you’re thinking about expanding, you’ve probably had some success in your business already. As you look to grow your business, the first – and most important – thing to do is to ensure that your core business is healthy and thriving. If you’re a wedding photographer who’s hoping to expand into portraiture, be sure that you’ve established your weddding photography business to a level of maturity and health so that it will continue to provide you with revenue you can use to expand your business.

If your core business isn’t healthy, then you won’t be able to grow anything new anyway! When you start taking resources (people/money/time) away from your core business, it has to be healthy or it will die along with whatever else you start. Ask yourself, ” Am I looking to change what I’m doing because something isn’t working? Or, am I trying to expand on my business and leverage my previous success into a new area?”

Be certain that your current business is at a place where it can continue to thrive, even while you shift your focus onto new areas.

2. Recognize that YOU are NOT Scaleable

It’s true. Every one of us has 168 hours a week. The only difference is how you choose to spend them. You can’t buy more, and you can’t save any for later. That means that any business that is heavily-based on providing a service is limited by human capital (the people needed to perform the service).

If your photography business and brand are centered around YOU, then you must recognize that there is a limit to how much you can expand your brand. This can be a blessing because it helps you create scarcity (and drives up the value of your service).

The challenge is that it limits your ability to scale. You have a limited amount of work you can do, which means you need systems and people to create scale. Your business needs systems in place that allow you to focus on your real role – growing your business. This means that your workflow, your accounting systems, your lead management, and customer experience systems must all be dialed-in and functioning. It also means delegating key tasks to team members.

3. Decide who you want to be.

If you LOVE photography, then you might just want to be a photographer. At the same time, if you run a business – especially one that includes multiple photographers, or brands, you’ll spend less time photographing and more time managing. Once you move to a model that involves managing people, the day-to-day management will take up most of your time. In fact, you must recognize that your role in your business completely changes as you scale and grow.

This can be discouraging for photographers who want to simply shoot photos. If your primary passion is photography, then you may find that managing a business isn’t the best fit for you. If you get excited about starting new things and seeing them grow and succeed, then you may have to let go of shooting a bit in order to focus on being an entrepreneur. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but your choice certainly affects how you approach your role in business. Start by deciding whether you want to primarily be a photographer, a manager, or a business owner.

4. Remember what really matters.

As humans, it’s easier for us to focus on appearing to be successful. We focus on the outward signs of success, things like opening a new studio, or hiring associates. We “feel” as though we’re building something successful because we’re “doing” something. If you’re “growing” your business because opening a studio or hiring an associate is your benchmark of success, then you might find yourself disappointed.

On the other hand, if your goal is to build a business that contributes value to your life, and the life of your family, you’ll make business decisions based on that philosophy. You may decide that you’d rather spend time with your kids…instead of managing employees. At the same time, you might discover that bringing on a high-capacity team to help you run your business actually frees you up to invest more in your family!

Written by Jason Aten

Jason Aten is a Michigan based wedding photographer. After a career in marketing and sales management for a Fortune 100 company, Jason became relentlessly drawn to the ability to impact people’s lives through photography. So in 2001 he quit his job to start his own photography business. Jason applies his previous marketing and sales experience to his photography business and now takes the time to educate others with his “Starting Out Right”one-day intensives and resource guides. You can find more posts like this on the Starting Out Right blog.

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