If you’re looking at the calendar and wondering where 2011 went, you’re not alone. We’re [already] headed into the final quarter of the year, so it’s a smart time to check in with how you’re doing vs. your original photography business plan. And if you want to finish the year strong, you may want to make some strategic decisions about how to spend your time and marketing resources.
Cut to our latest free resource, the 2012 Photo Business Plan Workbook. This 9-chapter workbook is designed to provide you with key strategies, concrete examples, and a list of comprehensive resources to help you think critically about your photo business.
In addition, here are 10 tips for smart moves you should be thinking about now. Regardless of how your business has performed thus far, you can decide to make success happen now or just watch the rest of the year take its course.
1. Have a cash flow plan.
How have you fared thus far in 2011? If your original plan for income and expenses went out the door months ago, its never too late to hold your ground and get back to the disciplined approach to managing your cash. What are your remaining expenses for 2011 and early 2012? Will your existing bookings cover these obligations and support your lifestyle? If not, how many additional gigs must you book to ensure you’re not creating a unmanageable debt situation to maintain necessary spending? At least three levers can impact cash flow – increasing prices, more aggressive or innovative marketing to bring in new clients, or slashing/delaying those expenses. Have a look at The Tax Ninja, Matt Whatley’s recommendations for smart equipment spending.
2. Review your website analytics.
This is one of those “I should really do this more often” tasks. But if you want to make smart decisions about your website and marketing, its critical to have a tool like Google Analytics installed and review the data regularly. To keep from getting bogged down, review a few key points and think about how they can impact your business. For example, Traffic Sources can be insightful data. Are the sources sending traffic to your site proportional to the effort you put in to cultivate those sources? If you have conversion tracking enabled, which are the best performing sources (that result in sales or inquiries) and can you spend more time or money cultivating these? Another helpful are is Content. What is the top content on your site in terms of visits and time on site? If there are any pleasant surprises, you should consider using this content more prominently on your site or marketing. Likewise, you can consider some end-of-year content tests to determine how visitors get engaged by specific new content on your site. (Your website software should support easy changes that enable you to be responsive to what you learn about visitor behavior.)
3. Tweak your SEO.
Are you maximizing opportunities to attract new clients using Google search? By now we assume you already have a keyword hitlist – an understanding of the keyword searches you want to appear on page 1 of search results for. (If you don’t have a keyword hitlist – see our guide to search engine optimization for photographers.) Use analytics to determine how your target keywords have performed over the year, both in terms of traffic and conversions (eg. photo sales, newsletter signups). Consider if you need to alter your keyword hitlist or work harder on your SEO to drive more traffic to your site. (PhotoShelter website owners – you should re-run the SEO Grader in your account to get customized recommendations for improvement.)
4. Test new pricing.
This is the part where people get awkward and shy – but here’s the reality: if you’re providing outstanding service to a client, they’ll respect you for being upfront with your needs. This is a business discussion – nothing personal. “My rates are increasing as of January.” You’ll never know the client’s threshold to pay more if you don’t test. The same can be true with print sales. You can even use the impending price increase to encourage clients to lock in work at the old rates. If you’re skittish about this, check out what Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun told us about talking budget with clients.
5. Run a promotion.
Everyone loves a good holiday discount. The best part about offering a promotion is that it gives you “new news” – something substantial to communicate to your prospects and get yourself back on their radar. (PhotoShelter members – you can set up discount coupons and promo codes, as well as promotional image packages, right inside your account.)
6. Think seasonality.
While you’re getting ready to fill yourself up with holiday fare, your clients are already a few miles down the road. What are they thinking about right now? It will vary by industry and photo specialty. The holidays give you a great reason to go back to portrait and event clients and remind them of photos they can buy for themselves and loved ones. Meanwhile, your commercial clients are probably already planning spring campaigns.
7. Build your prospect list.
If your prospect list is crusty and old, or nonexistent, you should make it a priority to refresh this effort. You can do this organically with intensive research and a smart content marketing strategy that attracts potential clients to sign up for your newsletter. (For tips on building your content marketing strategy, checkout The Freelancer’s Online Marketing Blueprint.) Alternatively, you can work with a service like Agency Access to build a list that is highly relevant to your specialty.
8. Consider year end purchases to lower taxes.
US based businesses (and likely other nations too) typically evaluate upcoming expenses at the end of the year and make them in December. Why? If you have the budget flexibility, these expenses help offset profits in your tax return, and can save you money (meaning, your profits are lower so you pay the taxman less). The Tax Ninja Matt Whatley tells us that that, on average, photographers spend $10,000-$15,000 in equipment expenses every 2 years, and it’s all tax deductible in the first year. This can create a nice savings on your taxes, assuming you have enough income to offset the purchases. Making business purchases isn’t the only smart tax move that should be on your mind – have a look at Matt’s 7 Common Tax Mistakes Made By Photographers.
9. Don’t forget your holiday cards – a smart marketing tool.
Holiday cards are another great way to get back on the radar of old clients, and break through to new prospects. We’ve been told that many buyers, like Travel + Leisure’s Whitney Lawson, look forward to receiving new and creative holiday cards which she keeps just like other standout photographer promotions.
10. Get some feedback.
As you’re thinking about ways to fine tune your business, don’t do it in a vacuum. Contact the clients and partners you’ve worked with throughout the year and ask for direct input. How did our collaboration work out for you? What could have made it more successful? This will not only give you important constructive tips to improve the way you operate, but it demonstrates to your clients that you’re a professional who cares about their needs and your own continuous improvement. If you’re not comfortable with face-to-face feedback, try a survey tool like SurveyMonkey.
Now go get planning!
What are you doing to make sure you wrap up 2011 strong and start 2012 with a bang? Tell us in the comments.