The Business Plan - part 1 of 1

by Ron Pybus Published 01/04/2009

Part 15 on the business aspects of being a successful photographer by Ron Pybus ma aswpp.

At some stage in the development of your business you will have had to prepare a business plan. In the majority of cases such plans have to be prepared for presentation to the bank manager when seeking financial support for your business. Often, in small businesses, this is the last time they are used. Few businesses see them as a vital management tool. If you are in this situation, now is the time to think again!

A business plan will probably be 10 to 12 pages in length, but will carry an executive summary of one or, at most, two sides of A4. It must outline where you are now and where to aim to be in a few years (typically five years) down the road. Business plans are an essential management tool and must be consulted and amended regularly.

Even if you wrote your business plan 12 months ago, with the development of the recession over the last six months, the likelihood is that it is no longer a viable operational document.

An ideal business plan should start out with clear statements as to what are your primary and subsidiary businesses and where you are now with these businesses. It should make it clear what your key business is and whom is your target market. It should also detail how you plan to market to your target consumers and the source of any competition. It should detail your assets (cameras, equipment, premises), your financial position (how much money is currently available within the business), and the current income (your average weekly or monthly turnover), your monthly expenditure, (rent, rates, electricity, print processing, etc). Additionally it should detail your staff, their hours, their background, experience and expertise, and their current training needs

n other words a clear statement as to the health of your business as it stands today.

The second part is probably the most important. It is a projection from where you are today to where you feasibly see yourself and your business being in, typically, five years' time. Over the last few months this projection will have changed, which is why it is time to rewrite your business plan. We were all looking to continued growth over the next few years as the world continued in an ever buoyant fashion, but now most businesses, especially the photographic trade, is having to draw back its development plans and look to survival over the next 12 months with possibly gradual expansion for the following two or three years.

One essential point is that YOU must write the plan. It should not be something that you ask your accountant to prepare. He or she will only be able to put a financial slant on your situation. YOU need to write the plan, because YOU need to own it. Better still, if you have staff it is an opportunity to encourage them to develop as an integral part of the business if you directly involve them in the production of a business plan. Present them with a plan and it will be your plan, include them at every stage and they will have an ownership of what is planned.

As photographers, we have to admit that were are right at the end of the line when it comes to personal expenditure. The majority of people are concerned about job security, paying the essential bills, putting food on the table, keeping cars, and the like, in running order. Following this there is clothing, the children, etc, and right at the end comes family portraits. I am finding that I am attracting a similar number of customers through the door, but they are spending a little less. This is likely to continue until the media move away from dishing out their daily doom and gloom messages and creating more upbeat news.

There are likely to be some fundamental changes. Firstly equipment is certain to rise in price as the value of the pound falls even lower. My new price list from my framing suppliers has informed me of an overall 8% increase in prices from 1 March, the photographic press has indicated that, now that Focus has finished, you have had your last opportunity to buy equipment at pre-increase prices. Yet our customers are looking for even better value for money. Secondly the number of weddings continues to reduce dramatically and the likelihood is that only a small percentage of couples will want to be as lavish as they would have been in the past. When I started out in the 1960s weddings were covered in about 36 exposures, with no visits to the bride's house and no evening photographs. My photographic partner and I used to regularly cover six weddings on a Saturday and still have time to spare, rather than the fullday shoot, as is the case for the majority of weddings today.

I do not want to be negative, but I do need to be realistic in rewriting my business plan and you must take the same line in rewriting your plans. I am projecting a downturn in income of about 10% in 2009, but because of strict management of my expenditure, only about a 5% fall in overall profit. In 2010 I project that my profit will be about the same as 2008, but by 2011 I am projecting a rise of about 10%.

Hopefully the media will become less infatuated with doom and gloom and will be taking a more positive approach, especially when they finally see that their doom and gloom is affecting both their actual sales and their advertising income. Hopefully someone will soon see that continued negative news will not help them survive.

So you have allocated time to rewrite your business plan. That is only the start. Do not just file it away, but be positive and turn it into a series of planned, timed and costed actions which will assist you in achieving the plan you have prepared.

In preparing your plan, make use of the resources that are available to you. Organisations such as Business Link's website can help with the drawing up of an effective business plan. Preparing plans and dealing with the business part of photography may be the routine and boring aspects of running a photographic business, but unless you look after the business aspects, you will probably have no business to look after in a couple of years. Those businesses that do survive are the ones where the managers are looking into the future, planning changes and developments and generally looking after the business just as much if not more than the actual photographic aspects.

Are you starting out in business and need help in writing your first business plan or do you want help in rewriting your outdated plan or do you just want some guidance in coping with the recession?

Ron runs regular one-to-one courses over two days at his Wiltshire Studio and Training complex for a fee of £195. He has also developed a new course on managing the recession, geared specifically at photographers. This course has already been used by a variety of small business organisations and will form part of a presentation in May to the Chartered Management Institute.

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1st Published 01/04/2009
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