All businesses share certain qualities, but you might be surprised that wedding photography covers a wide range of similarities to most small businesses.
A full calendar, strong social skills, uncertain finances, cutthroat competition and expensive, quickly depreciating equipment are among the many challenges that might sound familiar. And I’m a firm believer that the lessons from dealing with these problems can be scaled up in a way that holds onto the value of being a freelancer.
I grew up enjoying photography, but never really thought I could pursue it as a career. Being talkative eventually led me to sales, but the pay and long hours didn’t exactly inspire me. Despite rising up the ranks, I needed a better intersection between my skillset and my passion to get more satisfaction from my work, and produce something I could be proud of. For small business owners, it’s a familiar story.
The birth of my baby daughter threw things into focus, and set those wheels in motion. Suddenly needing to support a family while ideally having more time at home, I looked back to my old hobbies. I’d never have thought of it, but wedding photography proved to be the perfect outlet: a way to share in the joy I’d experienced with others, and a sensible business prospect.
Learn to Talk to People
The crux of organizational agility is people, and people are my work. When it comes down to it, agility is more about behavior than processes. After all, the whole idea is to break down barriers and rigorous structures, with the aim to stop people jumping through hoops. You don’t do that by introducing a different color of hoop!
My natural, documentary style of wedding photography works on an opposite set of principles to many photographers. While some of my competitors opt to skulk around ninja-like at weddings, trying to capture the perfect candid shot, my approach is counter-intuitive. I find that getting stuck in and talking to people is a better way to blend in.
Be Transparent and Honest
Disarming the usual tension and putting people at ease allows them to express themselves, and that’s absolute gold for a photographer. In the exact same way, employees who aren’t worrying about what they’re allowed to do will react more effectively to hurdles. Large amounts of red tape and the threat of repercussions for not following procedure will inevitably delay reactions, to a point that could cause damage.
For a precautionary tale, look at one of my favorite old tech companies, Nokia. Executives were encouraged only to report good news, and therefore failed to inform higher ups of the issues with their operating system until it was too late. The issue was partly structural, that much is obvious. But had the software division been allowed to act on the information they already had, they could have reacted to the competition, maybe saving the entire division.
Have a Unified Brand
It’s a key part of agility: being able to communicate your style, vision and message consistently in the face of change. You have to be like an earthquake-proofed building; wobbling and shifting but staying intact. For me, the individuality is partly method and partly the visual style and tone of my work.
There’s a strong parallel in the tone and messaging of internal and external communication. Filtering a strong brand identity through the organization should mean that everyone works and operates with that same voice, and a clear understanding of how they fit in. Selling your employees on the creative vision and teaching them to integrate that into their thinking and day to day operations can impart this tone in subtle ways, and at a bunch of different levels.
Be Agile and Flexible
Of course agility isn’t just about the macro scale, steering your business around oncoming icebergs. Every project, even every sale, involves a series of decisions and exchanges that have a cumulative effect on the bottom line. When I’m deciding whether or not to take on a client, I have to be flexible within reason. I’m not keen on taking group photos: apart from being a nightmare to organize, they’re rigid and manufactured, everything I don’t want in my photos. But enough people ask for them that I’ve learned to work them in with my own twist.
Ultimately you have a set of USPs that attract people to your business in the first place. As long as you’re not losing business, chasing other values because they seem more popular is a dangerous proposition. Here agility means being flexible without diluting the things that make you unique. The best businesses will outfit themselves to think creatively, and see if they can satisfy what customers and clients want in a way that doesn’t compromise on their values.
React Quickly and Be Observant
As we enter 2017, being able to react quickly to problems seems particularly important! A lot of businesses of all stripes still seem to fall back on market research, becoming disconnected from their customers. If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that polling data isn’t always to be trusted. But that doesn’t mean you have to be in a constant state of anxiety. The best way to keep abreast of changes and stop yourself from being surprised is just to stay in the loop.
It was through talking with couples and other people in the field that I cottoned onto the rise in engagement photo shoots. The signs were there: people are getting more disposable income, and these pre-wedding photos are a practical addition to a wedding, making good gifts or decorations. But there are trends, and there’s hard evidence. If your business is small enough that you can talk directly to people and quiz them on what you could be doing better, do that!
Otherwise, make sure that customer services and social media have a way to pass on feedback, and the responsibility and authority to encourage it. Being responsive owes a lot to structure, which isn’t something I have to deal with. But more than anything it’s about empowerment. Making every individual feel like I do – a small business owner who loves their job – gives them the impetus to ensure the business does as well as it can.
Author: Joe Josland is the founder of JJosland Photography, and works as a documentary wedding photographer in Kent and across the UK. His unique natural style aims to replicate the story of the wedding day through pictures, capturing the moments of joy that matter most.