In the few years that Vagabond Photography has been in operation, using a small business consulting firm hadn’t really been a priority for me. When I opened the doors, I knew a fare amount about how to photograph people, engage them, make a schedule and keep to it and track my finances. I also had a plan on where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. I also knew that I still had a lot to learn and that I didn’t know everything.
There have been some points in time where I felt a feeling of being lost, trying to determine if I took the company in the right direction or if I lead it and me down a path of destruction. I’ve also talked to a fair few of my colleagues over the years and found this is something that happens to almost everyone and in every field at some point in time. The response to it from across the board was to take a step back, catch your breath and jump back to it and possibly have someone from outside your business take a look at it to see if you’re still on track.
This is where a business consulting firm can come in handy. I met recently with Cultivate Advisors out of Chicago just to get a sense of if I was still on the correct path for my company and to see how a complete outsider sees my business as a whole. It is an eye-opening experience to say the least. You have to bear a lot of your soul to them and be willing to take the praise and criticisms that come during the meeting. It also means you have to take a hard look at the numbers for your company and see if you need to expand your net to bring in more leads or possibly narrow it and be more selective in what you offer or who you take on as clients making sure they are the correct fit.
When I met with John, one of the first thing he asked me is where do I want to be in 5 years, in 10 years and what do I want to have happen to the company when I decide to retire? I had a 5 year plan but really beyond that I never had given it a lot of thought about how/if the company would continue when I retire. To me it seemed so far away and I’m still trying to figure out this year and next but it’s done to make you think about more than what’s right in front of your face.
I think by far the most enlightening aspect of our meeting was when I was asked to break down how business is done from the point in time of getting the referral/finding the client to the final sale and if there is a way to cut out the fat, to better stream line the process to make it both easier on a client and me to save some time. Along with offering an incentive to clients for referrals. We also broke this down for the weddings, portraits, corporate sections of my business seeing as they do have a few different steps in regards to work flow.
We also talked about expansion of the company and how working our new field of aerial photography can be worked into our already existing business ventures and how it can better stand on its own. This also turned into marketing it to more than just corporate work but how it can be useful at weddings and other avenues of portraiture.
One of the last things we did during our meeting was break down how much I was really making per hour and if I was actually making a what billable hours were saying I was making. It came out that by averaging what I do in my three main sectors (weddings, portraits & corporate) I am right on track with what my thoughts and book numbers were saying.
When working with business consultants it can be a worthwhile venture but only if you are willing to hear what the consultant is saying. For me I decided to open up everything and say here look at my financials, my website, my business practices, it makes their job so much easier and it makes it easier for them to help you. When they know what is actually going on. I won’t lie it can also be a wakeup call for person to figure out where they really need to put in the work to make their company more sustainable. I also understand that as a small business owner such as yourself, you may not be too happy with someone crawling though your financials but these are professional business people and you don’t have to worry about your information getting out to the world.
I came away with a lot of information from my time with them and the thing that stuck with me most of all was John saying “Think hard and & dream big about your business.”