Does a Photographer Really Need a Business Plan?

Article Read Time
This post takes approximately 5 minutes to read.

So how critical is the business plan to the success of a photography business? Really? Do you need to carefully craft this sacred document? Or are you wasting time that could be spent on other things? Like finding customers.

A local university recently began a certificate program for aspiring entrepreneurs. I was invited to participate as a student in the pilot run. The handful of us in the test class gave feedback on the instructors, material, and overall experience before the final version of the program was offered to the public. I already knew quite well how much groundwork goes into starting a business and making it viable. These few weeks reminded me this information was always new to someone.

While these courses were designed for business in general, I couldn’t help but look at everything from the perspective of photography. Market research, product development, financial planning, path to market…business plan.

Almost all guidance for new business includes the venerable business plan. Search the web for reasons business fails and you will almost always find a lack of business plan. Forbes, Investopedia, and other respected publications are quick to point out how important this is. Flip through articles specific to photography, however, and it’s hardly ever mentioned.

So how critical is the business plan to the success of a photography business? Really? Do you need to carefully craft this sacred document? Or are you wasting time that could be spent on other things? Like finding customers.

So what is a business plan, anyway?

Remembering this is always new to someone, let’s start by looking at the traditional business plan. No business degree program is complete without intense study of “The Plan”. My university experience years ago was no different. We slogged through scenarios, created plans from scratch, and read, analyzed, and edited existing plans. My classmates and I played the parts of owners, shareholders, potential investors, and commercial lenders. It was fascinating but not necessarily fun.

The main purpose of these plans was to show the viability of the product. Plain and simple. They required research and reality, though healthy doses of optimism were expected. It wasn’t all about numbers. Logic, speculation, and values of the principles – the people running the company – all played a part. The plan answered a lot of questions.

Basically, the business plan is exactly what it says. It is a plan for the business. It is a roadmap. Like all roadmaps it is designed to get the user from one point to another. Because a business is a living entity, things along the way change. When these changes happen, the plan is a tool for decision making when the destination has multiple paths.

Related:  7 Things You Should Do Before Starting a Photography Business

The formal business plan can be a complex and complicated beast. This big, scary thing can be a huge time suck if the objective is to include every conceivable part. The fear of including too much, or not enough, can lead to completion paralysis. This is true even though the perfect plan doesn’t exist. It probably never will.

Whenever the business plan is mentioned, most people think of big companies. These have a lot of risk, need a lot of resources, and they need something to back up their great idea in writing. They need to convince investors and commercial lenders that they are a good risk, so people will hand over the money they need to make things happen.

Because most photographers are self funded, the need to look good on paper isn’t pressing. The low requirements to start don’t require calculus or peer review. There aren’t a lot of mysteries in the industry. There are more than enough examples and experience to call upon. There’s nothing particularly new, innovative, or counter to what everyone else already does or offers. A simple spreadsheet running in the black is enough to satisfy financial planning.

So does a photographer really need a business plan?

Remember the very basic purpose of a plan? A roadmap for decision making.

Will you ever need to impress someone enough to hand you money? Maybe not.

On the other hand, will you ever need to make decisions on how to spend the money you have? Or to maximize or make more of it? Will you ever wonder if you’re on the path to your destination, or whether you’re swept along by the flow?

Of course, you will.

So would a plan help you get there?

Of course, it would.

So does your photography business need a plan?

Of course, it does.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that business plans are created for other people. They show off your expertise, your responsible attitude, and your earnestness. It’s what you hand over when you want to be taken seriously.

The first person who needs to take you seriously is…you. You need to satisfy yourself that your product is viable. You need to understand your competition and figure out what advantage you have over them. You need to know where your money’s coming from and going to. You need to know where you’re going. Where do you want to be in five years, ten, the end of your career? How will you get there?

Related:  Cash Only. No Credit: Setting Your Photo Policy

This is the purpose of a business plan. It’s not done to please your banker, or your business coach, or to tick a box in your startup checklist. It’s done for you. It doesn’t need to be a formal document you share with the world, although you should always write your plan down. A written plan you can come back to is the only way to really keep up with progress and spot potential problems. It should be reviewed regularly to see what adjustments you need to make.

Business is a living thing, remember? You have to make sure it’s thriving. Your plan not only fulfills its main objective – to help in decision making – it lets you make those decisions with confidence. The difference between success and failure often boils down to one thing – confident decision making.

So if you don’t need a formal plan, what do you need?

Let’s go back to that Forbes article for a moment. From a list of failure reasons, you can clearly see the bases you need to cover. Each reason should be a concern. If you can answer each of those concerns, and figure out how to avoid them, you’re already miles ahead. That may seem overly simple, but that’s really what it boils down to.

Try this simple approach.

  • Check out other similar articles. You should see a pattern.
  • Grab a pencil. Write down the causes
  • Think about how you will avoid this problem
  • What’s your plan for each and every point of failure?

Let this be the foundation for your own business plan.

The plan you’ve crafted not only helps lay out your roadmap, it helps avoid the potholes along the way. Now that you’ve tamed the big, scary monster, you can get on with other things.

With confidence.