Business Friday: What They Don’t Teach You In School
“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”— Oscar Wilde
Around the turn of the century, a piece of modern business mythology was born. The idea goes something like this: “The customer is always right.” Many small business owners, including photographers, adopted this principle as if it were the golden rule. And it worked—their customers, it was said, loved them. But some photographers did not make enough money to remain in business—all that love not withstanding.
What I’m about to say may shock some of you: In my opinion, a photography operation should be run for the benefit of the owners, not the customers. That’s because clients (most of them, anyway) don’t care if you make enough money to survive. If you fail, there’s always “that other guy” that Arlo Guthrie snag about.
Since customers don’t care if you make a profit, you need to establish policies and practices that ensure that you do. For instance, each aspect of your operation should be self-supporting: You shouldn’t do some assignments for less money because you’re making larger profits from others. This approach makes you vulnerable to lower-priced competition in your high-profit area and at risk in the low-profit one. I’ve seen photographers shoot assignments for ego satisfaction alone and while it may be fun, it can become a trap, because this kind of job can keep you busy without generating cash flow. The winner is the customer, the loser is the photographer.
If we don’t look out for our own best interests, who will? Typically, most photographic operations in this country are small. When Mary and I operated our studio new clients were appreciated and respected but everything was run under standard policies. Good, existing clients were nurtured and we were more flexible about how we do things for them. This is important: It’s your business you can run it anyway you like; these are just a few ideas to keep in the back of your mind when things don’t go the way you had hoped.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book “On Photography, A Life in Photography,” a business book about photography that includes the anecdotal references of a memoir.