I started my photography business in early 2010 as a desperate shot at success. I had been bouncing from job to job, was in a custody battle for my daughter, and—at 32—faced the prospect of having to move in with my father. At first, it was hard to get clients, but I noticed an opportunity in real estate and architecture and decided to focus on those markets. By July, I had so much work that I had to hire an assistant. This year, I've added nine more people. Although I now have four other photographers on staff, we're turning clients away because we're so busy. I would like to expand the business, but I don't have time to work on it because many customers insist on having me do their shoot, even though my other photographers' work is as good as or better than mine. It is extremely frustrating. What should I do?
Owner | Shoot2Sell Architectural Photography
In the early stages of most service businesses, people sell themselves to their customers. It happens no matter how hard you try to create the appearance of having a whole company behind you. You're still asking customers to have confidence in you. You can't show them how they'll be depending on an entire team, because you don't have one. But if the business takes off, you'll find you need a team. So you build one—and wind up in a situation like Richard Sharum's.
I suggested Richard make a distinction between his current and future clients. With the latter, he can start out fresh and sell the company. He can talk about his stable of photographers, each of whom he has vetted and trained. He can emphasize the company's internal quality controls and his role in overseeing them. New clients will thus come away understanding they are buying the services of a whole business.
The current clients present a different challenge, because they're used to thinking they're buying the services of one man. In effect, they have to be resold. Richard can make that task a bit easier by introducing two-tier pricing, whereby they'll have to pay 20 percent more if they insist on having him do the shoot. He can then try to dissuade them from paying the premium by emphasizing the skill of his staff photographers and educating customers about the other factors that affect quality. If he's persistent, he'll eventually change the current clients' perception of the value he adds, which will free him up to expand his business.
Please send all questions and comments to AskNorm@inc.com. Norm Brodsky is a veteran entrepreneur. His co-author is editor-at-large Bo Burlingham. You can follow them on Twitter at @normbrodsky and @boburlingham. Their book, Street Smarts, is available in paperback.