November 10, 2014
One of the most challenging aspects of being self-employed is dealing effectively with the quiet times. Even after close to 20 years of freelancing, when the phone stops ringing I still find it tricky to stay grounded. Here are some of the strategies I use to try and keep on the rails and still get things done.
One of your first priorities when starting/running your business should be to build a buffer of money. The goal should be about 3 months income in the bank. This money should be viewed solely as a safety net and only used if you get into disastrous circumstances. If you never use it, it can be a holiday fund when you retire. The temptation is to only focus on upgrading equipment and using money to fund the lifestyle you want. In truth running a business without a buffer of some kind can leave you in a very vulnerable spot if things get quiet.
View your credit card is a trap rather than a safety net. Credit cards are very easy to get and inexpensive if you have money to service them. If things get tight they can leave your business haemorrhaging money in interest.
Putting ideas away for a rainy day
When you are under-employed and feeling stressed your perspective and creativity can be severely impaired. When you are buoyant you need to make a list of things you could/should do if you had too much time on your hands. It might be adding to your stock images or working on a new set of skills in photoshop.
How do you maintain productivity if you are freaking out? The important thing is to see this time as an opportunity and not to waste it. You need to remain calm. The first thing is to shut down any internal negative dialogue. Easier said than done but the reality of any business is that there will be boom times and lean times. So maybe its time to update your website images or tidy up your branding. Before you know it you will be busy again so look at these times as a bit of space to breathe and get to all of the little tasks that you know need doing but you haven’t done.
The key to getting more work is to have exciting relevant images to show off and having new prospective clients to show that work to. The best thing you can do for your moral when your business is too quiet is to succeed at something. Given that you are a photographer, I would suggest making some kick butt images for your folio. This is where it’s a huge advantage to have a shot list you prepared when you were in a good space. Look at the key areas that sit best with the direction you want your business to grow and see what you can shoot to develop that part of your folio.
I have done simple shots like this star anise, which have been very well received and cost me less than $5 to produce.
Doing the work is fun but having to find the work sucks. Many of the businesses that I have secured as clients have come from cold calling. Ideally marketing happens when you are busy as preparation for quiet patches, but it rarely unfolds that way. I pick an area that I specialise in and put a page of images together that show I have relevant experience and flare. Then I trawl web sites to find businesses in that ilk. They can be businesses that already spend money on photography or look like they should. I try and find out as much as I can about the business on line and then I ring them.
I have a clear idea of what I want to say before I call so I am not fumbling for words and I have my diary open and pen at the ready. I ask to speak to the appropriate person and I jot down their name straight up so I don’t forget. I try to strike up a conversation about their work in regards to photography, I want to sound relaxed and confident without being pushy. I don’t rush; no big “Ummmm’s” and I make sure I’m paying attention. I ask if I can email them some examples of my work. As I am talking I am writing down any relevant info that comes from the conversation. If the conversation goes well, I add their names and that info to my database and send them a quarterly update from my business. If I feel like there is a job there I will try and visit them in person. It generally takes multiple points of contact before people will connect you to their need for a service professional.
Don’t over do it
I don’t think you want to directly contact people too often for a couple of reasons. People are bombarded with emails and don’t need a weekly email from a service they might use one or twice a year. If you are working with people more regularly you can let them know what you are up to anyway.
It’s hard to have enough really interesting stuff to share every month. If your emails are always interesting, concise and good to look at people are more likely to pay attention to them. You can still push hard on social media because people are making the choice to see what you are up to.
It probably pays to have an idea of what you business does through each calendar month so you can better understand what your business does through the year. You might find you are working in an industry that has predictable peaks and troughs. If possible factor in your holidays to fit will the slowest part of the year.
Hopefully some of these ideas can soften the blow of a quiet patch. As uncomfortable as it feels at the time, retrospectively, quiet times that are used effectively are a gift. It’s space to assess and refine your business strategy whilst generating new work and introducing your self to new clients. There is also time to get to the less desirable tasks that you have been putting off using “being busy” as an excuse. It’s about predicting there will be difficult times and consciously planning for productive ways to use that time.
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