Business Plans

I was recently asked about Business Plans.  Below is my response.

Business plans can come in any format. I actually delivered one as a rap one time! The important part is that it succinctly communicates the entrepreneur’s vision, and has some realistic numbers.

Sales projections (with a plan to hit them), economics of a unit, and a monthly break-even analysis are the calculations that are especially important to me when I look at a plan. None of that is rocket science, and some of it can feel more like creative writing at times!

Even though people use business plans to apply for funding, the process of writing a business plan forces every entrepreneur to answer a lot of questions, and the process of answering these questions is probably a lot more valuable than any funding that might be received.

I’ve used Business Plan Pro software before, and it was effective for me. Of course, the quality of plans made with software is highly variable – you only get out of them what you put into them. Here’s a link:

The Small Business Administration has some good links to help with writing a business plan:

And SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, has some business plan templates that you can download and use for free:

I’m not big on business planning these days. In the Army, they say that no plan survives contact with the enemy. This is often true in business, too. I’d rather have my students ship one unit, and figure out how a customer uses it. That’s when they learn their real value proposition, because we ultimately are making products and services for customers. But the process of planning has some validity, and checking for realistic numbers is the most valuable part of the process.

Be a photographer, not a business person!

So, people ask me all the time, “What do I need to do to make money taking pictures?” I usually try to be very helpful, because I truly want everyone to succeed and do well. But it occurred to me the other day that maybe I shouldn’t encourage people to enter the portrait photography market. It’s not the only way to make money in photography, but it’s the one people usually ask me about.

I think, instead, that I should encourage people to sharpen their photography skills for pure enjoyment. I recently talked to a very successful, well-known, high-level photographer. I asked this person what his/her plan is for improving their photo skills. This person’s answer: “I don’t. I’m a business person, not a photographer.” That’s when it hit me that success for a photo studio is not about the quality of photos, but about the quality of the business that you can build around your photos. That’s not bad news for me; I enjoy running a business (most of the time).

But it is bad for my artistically-minded friends who would rather take cool pictures than play with spreadsheets. Here are some useful questions to ask if you’re thinking about doing portrait photography for money:

  • Do I have a good grasp of accounting?
  • Would I rather make art, or figure out merchandising strategy?
  • Do I like to sleep?
  • How strong are my computer skills? They’ll have to be well above average for portrait photography.
  • Am I any good at setting up systems for workflow, accounting, computer networks, business analysis, etc?
  • Now, setting up a business is not rocket science. Most people can do it with enough time and determination. But you should know, if you’re thinking about getting into portrait photography as a business, that you’re doing business, not just photography. Even if you’re working out of your home. It seems like something you can get into on a very small scale, but it won’t be like that for long. For a whole host of reasons that experience alone can explain, it’s far more complicated than you think. It’s more like setting up a manufacturing operation than opening a retail business.

    No, I haven’t given up on the idea of art, and yes, I do get to use nice camera equipment. But I just want to be totally honest and not encourage people to try something they may regret in the long term. Instead of opening a business, try making images that you love. Work hard on them. Learn all you can. Don’t feel like you have to be professional to be a great photographer. Just be a great photographer!

    Book Review: The Martha Rules

    Subtitle: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as you Start, Build, or Manage a Business. Written and published in 2005 by Martha Stewart.

    The narrative for this book starts while Martha Stewart is in prison. She talks about some of the very determined ladies she met who wanted to get out of prison and start their own businesses. While in the clink, Martha wrote some business training for them that turned into this book.

    It’s interesting to read a business book written by a gracious, driven, vicious, visionary entrepreneur. Anyone who had model, stock broker, caterer, CEO, and felon on her resume makes for a good read.

    I found the business principles rather obvious and unsurprising, but no less solid for all that. She makes liberal use of examples from her constellation of business friends and associates. Case studies are always interesting to me. And, of course, she frequently referred to lessons from her own business experience.

    In the end, any of us can only speak from our own experience. And that’s what I found so limiting about reading Martha’s rules for business. They work very well if you’re building a company like Martha has built. But like every product Martha produces that has her name on it, ultimately it’s just Martha and some very nice window dressing.