Scaling any business up is a challenge which requires considerable preparation, forethought and oversight. But for freelancers who run a one man band, it’s especially tough.
When you go from complete flexibility and self-determination to managing extra people, resources and administration overnight, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
There are all sorts of things to take into account, and many of them will depend on the focus and size of your current business. Here are five of the most important considerations when scaling up a photography business – or indeed any small enterprise.
Delegate the ‘manual labour’
There’s a lot of skill involved in photo editing, don’t get me wrong. The end state of an edited photo can differ wildly depending on what you want to achieve, and quality can be subjective.
Broadly speaking however, the tweaks required for most photos are simple but time consuming. They are time sensitive, particularly if you’re a wedding photographer like me. But they can also also take a long time to finish, eating into days when you could be chasing more bookings.
Instead of the obvious option – hiring another photographer – it might be more prudent to hire another editor. It encompasses fewer soft skills than being a photographer, for one. You won’t have to worry about your protege building a relationship with the client. They just have to do one thing well, and do it consistently.
This goes for any other business where more manual or administrative tasks might be weighing you down. Think about the things you only trust yourself to do, and outsource the others.
Hire another photographer
Taking on another photographer is a big step. If you’re anything like me, your work embodies a lot of your personality. In an often crowded field that might be what makes you stand out, at least as you see it. And photographers are often self-critical perfectionists, taking hundreds of snaps and only wanting to keep a few of them.
You obviously need to like their work. But liking them as a person is just as important. This is someone who you won’t just be in contact with, or passing instructions to. They will to a large extent be the face of your business; not just in the work you display, but as a point of contact with clients. They have to be as close to your standard and estimation of yourself as possible.
Collaborate with another photographer
One alternative to entrusting your work to someone else is to form a partnership. The same tools wedding photographers use to advertise to clients will be of equal use to you. Reviews and examples of their work make it easier to form a decision about their suitability.
Partnerships don’t have to be ‘all in’. Start by getting in touch and expressing admiration for their work. You can then trade tips and build a basic rapport. If clients approach you with dates you’re unable to attend, you can then consider referring them onto the other photographer.
With any luck, they will return the favour in future. This common business interest might then blossom into a more engaged working relationship, pooling other resources and even working jobs together. By this point it will be obvious whether a merger will work. In the crowded world of wedding photography, shaking hands with rivals is certainly something to consider.
Think about a rebrand
Your name can be a powerful brand when you’re working as a lone wolf: just ask any actor or musician. Parents often choose outlandish names for their children in the hope that it will make them stand out, while artists adopt pseudonyms. Alliteration seems to have worked well for me!
But if you’re no longer taking all the photos or overseeing other major parts of the operation, it’s disingenuous to imply otherwise. You can make it clear who will be taking the photos when you meet with the client, but if they’re seeing your photos and expecting you, you might find yourself wasting more trips than usual.
It’s not impossible to retain this as you expand. You can make it clear that you are the proprietor, and shape the brand around your name as the epitome of a certain style. But this requires a deft hand and good marketing, and can be more trouble than it’s worth.
Plan finances and make contingencies
Hiring people, buying equipment, extra travel, marketing, web redesigns – scaling up from freelance to a fully-fledged business is a big step. Your planning and your actions should reflect this. Be pragmatic and sensible, but don’t hold back in achieving your ambitions.
It may be an obvious point, but don’t just decide to scale up because you’ve made good money in the last few months. Build up as much money and support as you can. Wait until the work is almost overwhelming you, not just in one instance, but over a continuous period of months.
You don’t want to suddenly go through a lean period and have to lay off your new employee. Put the foundations for expansion in place early. Make as many contacts as possible, and consider other lines of work to pursue in quiet periods.
Stay active online, and be active in chasing leads, even if you aren’t ultimately able to accommodate them. Scaling up a business means being even more proactive and energetic in your work. You’re not only responsible for your own life and family, but those of your employees. Make sure you grab that responsibility with both hands.