Today’s post is directed mostly to fellow photographers. If you’re a regular reader just dropping by to see if new photos have been posted, never fear, there will be some coming at you tomorrow.
I’m a student at heart. Dyed in the wool. People talk of watching Saturday morning cartoons as I kid, but I can’t relate. I spent Saturday mornings curled up with a stack of books. Yes, the bookworm emerged early. So you can imagine how that bookworm went into all-out feeding frenzy mode when I decided to start a business. Over the past year, every available surface of my office has been occupied by stacks of books, piles toppling over onto each other, secretly encroaching upon my husband’s shelves. (Yes, I’m hoping he doesn’t notice that Seth Godin has taken up residence amidst his music books. Shhhhh…..)
I never had any illusions about the business side of my photography. Don’t get me wrong, I dote on my clients, obsess over images in Photoshop, and get starry-eyed when Canon releases upgrades like any other. But I recognized immediately that if I wanted it to be an actual source of income, then I needed to know how to run a business.
However, two problems quickly arise when you’re in this position:
1) Many business books offer good ideas that don’t translate well into the photography world. Spreadsheets discussing manufacturing and inventory management? Not applicable. There’s very little out there in the way of the brass tacks of how to run a photography business. Some concepts translate, but extracting them from irrelevant information when you have zero business background to draw upon is a headache. And it doesn’t leave you with a great deal of confidence in your piecemeal self-education.
2) Within the photography world, everyone wants to sell you something. Marketing guides, newsletter templates, startup programs, you’ve seen the chaos. Although education almost always comes at a steep price, it’s particularly tricky when you don’t have a way of evaluating the qualifications of the person selling you the seminar or E-book. After all, most photogs don’t have business backgrounds, so how do you know whether what they have to say will be applicable beyond their own experience?
Well, you don’t. And I HAVE spent some money on educational tools that were not helpful. Nothing is more frustrating, especially when you’re dealing with other (substantial) startup costs.
I take the time to give this backstory so that you’ll understand that when I say that Alicia Caine’s “Easy As Pie” pricing guide and “Happy Place” business plan guide are worth the investment, I’m not just blowing hot air. I purchased both with hard-earned money. I am still in the process of building my business, and I can say that these two items have been invaluable in my journey thus far.
Easy As Pie is not just about how to price your photography services. You go over that in detail, yes, but it’s also about teaching you to value what you do and set clear boundaries for your business. Alicia Caine has a gift for disguising hard, soul-searching work by wrapping it in witty words (see the titles of her products), and breaking down the steps into fun activities. She doesn’t leave you hanging, she describes exactly how to calculate what you need to calculate and why. But by the time you complete the program you not only have a complete pricing guide, you also have a clearer idea of where you’re going, and how you need to price your services to get there. I believe that if Easy As Pie were required reading for all photographers, the profession of photography would be more well-respected by the general population. (That sentence is worth reading twice.) We would all stop trying to desperately run around pleasing everyone, giving away our skills and investments, and hemorrhaging money at every turn. We would start acting like business owners who have something valuable to offer. I’m very glad that I read the guide early on in my path. I’m sure that there will be trial and error in my pricing process, but I now have a clear method for doing so, and I understand how profitable, sustainable pricing works.
Because Alicia started out in the same place a lot of us do – a creative type with no clear blueprint – she has an acute ability to call you out on all the unhealthy habits and thought processes that you, the beginner, go through. She addresses issues like insecurity, lack of start-up funds, the temptation to just copy what others are doing, overwhelming feelings of inadequacy or confusion, the list goes on. She identifies how these are damaging to your business and gives you tools to get over them. It’s a whole lot more than canned, inspirational poster-style “Follow Your Dream!!” advice. She shows you how to do it.
I have exchanged emails with Alicia personally, and I can also say that she practices what she preaches. She is highly customer-oriented and attentive. (For example, when you download one of her guides, you not only get a lovely, stylized PDF, but also a printable .doc version that won’t waste all your ink when you print out the worksheets. Phew!). But she also has firm business policies that she sticks to without making you feel like you’re getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop.
My personal respect for her as a businesswoman and positive experience with the pricing guide helped me make the decision to download her Happy Place guide for writing a business plan. I admit that I felt so confident after rocking Easy As Pie that I didn’t think I needed another guide, but I eventually caved because I knew it would be good. I just finished reading through it, and I can say that she has in fact produced something that covers an entirely different area that requires its own guide. She begins by kicking more unhealthy beliefs to the curb, sends you off to do some introspection, and guides you carefully through the rest. The information contained in this PDF is probably not so top-secret that you absolutely couldn’t glean it elsewhere. However, its value lies in that it’s enormously specific to you and what you do, addresses exactly the life cycle that your new photography business is going through, and does it all in an easily readable way that makes you forget you’re working. She’s the Mary Poppins dispensing fun spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down, without being saccharine in her approach. It’s readable, it’s doable, and it’s faster (trust me) than wading through book after business book, trying to patch your own business plan together. I am busy, and I value efficiency and streamlined information. Happy Place was perfect for that.
If you’re still on the fence about whether to invest the money, you can actually get to know her style for free. She has some chapters of her products available on her website at no cost. You can also sign up for a free business email course that walks you through all the legal and financial steps of running a business (getting a tax ID, opening a business bank account, etc). Not only do these freebies offer good advice in and of themselves, they showcase her clever, casual, yet in-your-face STOP HIDING YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND style of encouragement. Check them out.
In the end, these two products have been a worthwhile investment for my business. Those super-flowery reviews on her website aren’t lying. Her guides are like getting a kick in the pants and a back massage at the same time. Five stars. They both have earned my personal recommendation.
And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my business plan….