Guest post by John Van Steenburg

Success has a simple formula: K+A+P Bernard Baruch

This Spring, about twenty thousand of us went to Las Vegas to attend WPPI and learn from classes and the technology exhibits.

Most attended several classes given by successful photographers laying out their techniques and policies to build business and advance their personal craft, styles and careers. The energy was high. Attendees listened intently, asked probing questions and enjoyed ad hoc discussions of these great ideas with each other, just as they have for the 30 plus years I have attended.

A Disturbing Trend

And yet, I am disturbed and concerned. Why? Each year I ask returning photographers what they have changed or adopted from the previous years experience. The typical answer is: Well, nothing really.”

At the same time, at almost every gathering of professional photographers, there seems to be a seminar or discussion (organized and/or ad-hoc) on: How can we save the photography business? All brought on because the average price per wedding (or portrait) is falling and practitioners are abandoning their businesses. Technology seems to be destroying traditional products, and, as with every industry that has gone digital, chaos is rampant among us.

Why is it so? We still have about one wedding per 100 individuals in each market each year (this has been approximately stable for the last 20 years). We still have competitive fads (disposal cameras on tabletops are now smart phones, etc.). We still have price competition from beginners and relatives with good cameras still exist. So, I propose we examine some of our challenges against one of the most profound and simple formulas for business success coined by one of Americas most successful business leaders of the last 100 years, Bernard Baruch.

We Cannot Stay in One Place

When asked how to be successful in business, Baruch replied, “Knowledge plus Action equals Profit.”

K + A = P

Let us begin back with my observation that most people attending conventions have good intentions. But in the end, most do nothing different from year to year. It seems to me that since Knowledge without Action is simply a self-serving mind game, and that it’s suicide. The market keeps moving. We cannot stay in one place. But, knowledge of great ideas and actions by others mean nothing by themselves. If you want to change your world and change and evolve your business, it requires a personal commitment to examine reality and chart a course that creates differentiation, discussion, and acts of faith in things you are committed to. It demands a willingness to try new things and succeed or fail and move on to try again.

And that is a key missing element for major success at a lot of studios: real self assessment and the willingness to try new things. Self-assessment and commitment to a new view of what is possible. Some are held back by fear, some by confusion, some by self-doubt. But, whatever has held you back, you need a little Nike in your studio: Just Do It! (Once you have a good idea of what it is). How do you know what ‘it’ is? You’re going to do serious self assessment to find out. Unfortunately, “Knowledge without Action” is where we find ourselves when we don’t employ the techniques learned at each of these conferences and gatherings.

And of course, Action without Knowledge is simply unleashing chaos without any measure of success possible. Lots of energy expended but nothing coalesces.

If You Can Measure It, You Can Control It

Our goal is to determine three things:

  1. Why we are not closing enough sales at enough revenue per client to garner the earnings we deserve
  2. Why we are not seen to be as valuable as we wish
  3. What we can do to create that value in the eyes of potential clients that translates into more profitable activities and products

As simple as this sounds, it is tough stuff. It requires that we examine our assumptions of current reality and do a serious self-assessment and competitive assessment of our business and craft practices and that we be open and active in changing them to be more effective. And, that we are continually conscious of the need for this ongoing examination and evolution.

In my next post we’ll delve into the self assessment and make a plan for change.