"What's it really take to run a photography business"? The question came from a student in one of my recent classes that I teach for NYC Digital Photography Workshops; a young man wanting to make a living doing what is currently his hobby and passion.
My mind instantly flooded with answers: it's about being creative on demand, being able to reproduce a look, follow a storyboard, communicating your client's message; it's more about business than photography and it's most certainly a juggling act. That you take good--if not great--pictures is a given. I started down this line of explanation but stopped myself. Yes, all of those things are true, but what is the real cornerstone of being in the photography business--or any business for that matter?
The number one overriding principle for my 30 years in business has been this, "Business is an excuse to have relationships". Yep, simple and straight-forward; everything else builds from that credo. Sure, you have to be super creative, a technical master, a marketing fool and a production pro, but none of that matters if you can't (or don't) form relationships. Think about it, you need other people to help you accomplish your goals and the best way to reach your goals is to help others reach their goals. By forming relationships you are in essence building a team that will help all of you succeed; and as the saying goes, "there is no “I” in Team".
As a "people photographer", I have placed even more emphasis on building relationships, be they life-long, or for the 10 minutes I might have with a subject for a magazine assignment. That instant rapport is crucial to getting a great shot when time is short and it's a skill I've worked hard to master.
My greatest successes have come directly from building relationships and I'm proud to say that I have more than a few clients that have been working with me for 20 years or more; others have become good friends and even if the work flow has stopped, they have remained in my inner circle of trusted critics and advisors.
Ultimately, building great relationships leads directly to shooting better work because trust is involved. My clients trust me and know that I'll do everything possible to get great shots; they are often willing to listen to my ideas and creative input because they know my main focus is to serve them in the best way possible. With that trust, magic happens.
So master your craft, find your style, market like a madman, but remember, business is an excuse to have relationships.