The one thing that separates photographers who succeed and photographers who fizzle out
Why do some photographers reach success while others seem to fizzle out? Why can some make a career out of photography, whereas others never seem to be able to leave their 9–5?
The difference between photographers who get traction and those who spin their wheels is simple:
An intense focus on the appropriate opportunities with an uncompromised ability to act.
Said another way – photographers who achieve success do two things:
- They focus on the right things.
- They act, they do, they move, they implement.
Too many photographers are working hard but are working hard on the wrong things. They’re in motion for the sake of moving and confuse motion for progress.
Small hinges move big doors
There’s a concept that says “small hinges move big doors.” In the context of this conversation, it means that with the right opportunities, you can influence huge changes. When you pull the right levers in your business, you will skyrocket your career and catapult yourself into success.
How do you know what to do, though?
How do you know where to focus your time and attention for the biggest results?
What are those levers that will catapult you to success?
The Growth Potential Indicator Score is a theory and formula I have come up with to help you gauge the potential impact of any opportunity. It gives you a measuring stick to check whether something is worthwhile pursuing. This way, you know that you’re focusing on the right things, and are moving in the right direction.
Any opportunity you’re considering can be measured. For example, maybe you’re thinking of:
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- Running a promotion
- Choosing a marketing channel
- Creating a mini-session event
- Throwing a sale
- Going to a workshop
- Buying a new piece of software
- Implementing a new system
Using the Growth Potential Indicator Score allows you to think intentionally about an opportunity.
To evaluate every opportunity across a standardized rating, we need the lowest common denominator. So, for any opportunity, what can we measure? What metrics indicate that an opportunity would deliver potential growth?
I believe there are three indicators of growth:
- Does the opportunity increase profitability?
- Does the opportunity increase efficiency or save you time?
- Does the opportunity improve your skill-set?
Does the opportunity increase profitability?
The first indicator of growth is whether an opportunity positively affects profitability. And, when broken down into simple terms, profitability is measured as:
Profit = (# of Clients x $ per Client) – Expenses
The biggest impact on profitability is the number of clients you have and the amount you make per client.
It’s not that decreasing your expenses wouldn’t positively affect profitability. It would. I just believe that for most photographers, expenses aren’t so astronomical that a decrease in expenses would make a huge difference. You may be able to find a way to save $50/month, but increasing the number of clients you have or how much they spend will make a much greater impact.
The three indicators of growth for an opportunity from a profitability standpoint are:
- Does the opportunity bring you in new business?
- Does the opportunity increase how much a client spends?
- Does the opportunity increase the future potential of either of the above?
Does the opportunity increase efficiency or save you time?
There are two “modes” you can be in – CEO Mode and Worker Bee Mode.
I borrowed this terminology from one of my favourite podcasts, the Fizzle Show. It’s the same concept as working on your business vs. working in your business.
The two “modes” in your business are:
- CEO Mode, which is when you’re working on your business
- Worker Bee Mode, which is when you’re working in your business
Real growth happens when you’re in CEO mode, which is when you are focusing on the big picture. You’re thinking about strategy, ideas, tactics, and opportunities that’ll move the needle. Most photographers don’t spend enough time here.
Worker Bee mode is when you’re in the day-to-day grind, which is when you’re the employee of your own business.
CEO mode is infinitely more valuable than Worker Bee mode. Work done in CEO mode has an exponential effect on your business whereas work done in Worker Bee mode is “time-in, money-out”, which has a linear effect.
For example, let’s say you have a 40-hour workweek, 35 of which are in Worker Bee mode, and 5 of which are in CEO mode. If you spent 5 hours less in Worker Bee mode (and therefore 5 hours more in CEO mode), not only would you get the benefit of those 5 hours on business-building, but those 5 hours (if spent right) would lead to exponential gains.
Efficiencies, systems and other ways to improve productivity or save time while in Worker Bee mode are areas well worth investing in. If an opportunity can save you time while in Worker Bee mode, then it is an indicator of growth potential because it frees up your time to focus on the things that will move the needle.
Does the opportunity improve your skill-set?
Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying “Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening my ax.” Stephen Covey added to this by saying “Sharpening the saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.”
Give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening my axe.
– Abraham Lincoln
Indeed, self-improvement and acquiring new skills are invaluable to your growth. I want to add one small caveat, though – growing your skill-set does not just mean learning something new.
Contrary to popular belief, knowledge does not equal power. Knowledge is cheap. Knowledge is a throw-away. Knowledge in and of itself is not valuable at all, actually.
Everyone and anyone can acquire knowledge. Reading an article, go to a workshop or listen to a podcast. You can soak up all the knowledge you want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to make a difference for you. Acting on that knowledge and making a change is what will make a difference.
You must take the knowledge you consume and do something with it. Only then can it improve your skill-set. Only then does it truly sharpen the saw.
I classify an opportunity’s ability to improve your skill-set as a growth indicator only if what you’ve learned is applied and has a positive, long-lasting impact.
Growth Potential Indicator Score
An opportunity’s Growth Potential Indicator Score is affected by it’s likelihood to:
- Generate new leads
- Guarantee new bookings or paid clients
- Increase client spending
- Increase the future potential of 1, 2 or 3
- Improve efficiency
- Grow your skill-set
When evaluating any opportunity, evaluate each of the above (on a scale from 1–5), to indicate how likely it is to be affected by the opportunity. Then measure it against an effort rating (on a scale from 1–5), to indicate how much effort, time or money that opportunity will require.
If you’re interested in more details as to the specifics of the formula, I added this next section with all the details. If you are the type of person who's eyes glaze over when reading equations feel free to skip this part.
When evaluating any opportunity, evaluate each of the above (on a scale from 1–5), to indicate how likely it is to be affected by the opportunity. Multiply each of the ratings by a “weight” that indicates how much it influences the overall Growth Potential Indicator Score. We do this because the value of an opportunity generating new leads is worth a different amount in comparison to an opportunity that can increase client spending, for example.
Then measure it against an effort rating (on a scale from 1–5), to indicate how much effort, time or money that opportunity will require.
Here is the full formula:
(NEW LEADS ÷ 2) + GUARANTEED BOOKINGS + (INCREASED SPENDING FOR CLIENTS x 2) + (EFFICIENCY IMPROVEMENT x 1.5) + (SKILL BUILDING ÷ 2) + ((NEW LEADS IN FUTURE ÷ 2) + GUARANTEED BOOKINGS IN THE FUTURE + (INCREASED SPENDING FOR FUTURE CLIENTS X 2) ÷ 1.5
Divide the result by the effort rating and multiplied by 10 to give a more comparable scale.
Is it worthwhile to do a bridal show?
Let’s look at an example.
You’re a wedding photographer, and you’re considering doing a bridal show. You’re going to approach it the same way most photographers approach bridal shows – design a beautiful booth, bring some wall prints, show off your albums and hand out brochures.
Let’s rate this opportunity (the bridal show) for each of our indicators of growth. Again, they are:
- Generate new leads now
- Guarantee new bookings or paid clients now
- Increase client spending now
- Generate new leads in the future
- Guarantee new bookings or paid clients in the future
- Increase client spending in the future
- Improve efficiency
- Grow your skill-set
The main benefits of a bridal show are to generate new leads now and network with other vendors with hopes that it’ll lead to increased referrals in the future. Therefore, we could say that the only indicators of growth that influenced by a bridal show are:
- Generate new leads now
- Generate new leads in the future
Looking at the way most photographers do bridal shows, I would estimate a low impact (a rating of 2) on generating new leads now and a very low impact (a rating of 1) on generating new leads in the future. Every other metric is not influenced, so we’ll rate them as no impact (a rating of 0).
We compare these scores against a measure of effort, which is how much time, effort or money it takes to act on an opportunity. Given all the prep work, the time dedicated the day of a bridal show, the money, the marketing materials, so on and so forth, I would estimate that a bridal show requires an effort rating of 2.
Now that we have all our ratings, we can pass the bridal show opportunity through the formula. When we do, we get a Growth Potential Indicator Score of 6.67, which is relatively low.
How do you know if something is worthwhile?
I have run dozens of opportunities through the Growth Potential Indicator Score formula, and have determined the following:
- 0 – 5 – Don’t pursue it.
- 5–10 – Not really worth pursuing, but at least you’d see some results if you did.
- 10–20 – Worth pursuing, but only if you’ve already pursued a handful of other opportunities.
- 20–30 – Worth pursuing.
- 30 – 40 – Definitely worth pursuing.
- 40 or more – Pursue now, these opportunities will give you hyper-growth!
Optimizing, tweaking and improving
Based on the example above, we calculated that a bridal show might have a Growth Potential Indicator Score of 6.67. When you look at the scale, above, you can see that this would indicate it’s not really worth pursuing. It’s not to say we don’t want to do a bridal show, but instead, it’s an indicator that the way most photographers approach bridal shows do it in a way that isn’t worthwhile.
The Growth Potential Indicator Score has given us insight into something we may not have otherwise considered. If we reframe our approach to bridal shows, we can perhaps find ways to optimize our approach, and therefore improve its rating.
Instead of approaching a bridal show like most photographers do, perhaps you made the following tweaks:
- You created a marketing campaign leading up to the bridal show to increase the likelihood that brides and grooms at the show would recognize you. You’d increase the chances of them engaging with you at the show.
- You created an outreach program ahead of time to increase the opportunities to build relationships and network at the show with other vendors.
- You partnered with the event planners running the bridal show and offered exclusive photographic coverage of the event. They could use this in marketing, social media or any other follow-up communications after the show. You wouldn’t charge for this, and in exchange for your time, you’d ask for photo credit. You’d increase your exposure to all the brides and grooms, as well as the other vendors after the show, therefore increasing the likelihood that you’d get more inquiries now and in the future.
- You came up with a strong call-to-action to present and discuss at the bridal show with the brides and grooms. For example, maybe you created a “Guide to Plan your Dream Wedding” that you could give brides and grooms via email as a PDF. In doing this, you’d be able to have something of value to give to every bride and groom you spoke with, and therefore increase the likelihood that you’d get their email address.
- You intentionally planned a marketing campaign for after the bridal show, re-targeting email addresses that you collected and people who visited the blog posts you promoted ahead of time so that you can stay top-of-mind.
With these changes to how you approach a bridal show, you’d increase its impact on generating new leads from a 2 to a 4 and its impact on generating new leads in the future from a 1 to a 3. All this for a small increase in effort, not even enough to change the “effort” rating (this is an example of working smarter instead of working harder).
These changes would increase the Growth Potential Indicator Score from 6.67 to 15. Now, I believe this is an opportunity worth pursuing!
The difference between success and failure
You can see how acting with greater intent, and choosing to focus on the right opportunities can give you huge results. Additionally, when you look at opportunities more objectively, you’ll perhaps find ways to make them worth pursuing.
This is the difference between photographers who reach success and those who fizzle out. This is the difference between those who can make a career out of photography and those who never seem to be able to leave their 9–5. This is the difference between photographers who get traction and those who spin their wheels.
The difference, as you can see, is an intense focus on the appropriate opportunities with an uncompromised ability to act.
Focus on the right things and become be a do’er, and you’re guaranteed to achieve success, too.