Real estate photographers: Take your business to the next level

In Build A Photography Business Show, Real estate photography - business management, Real estate photography marketing by Build A Photography Business

In this video we looked at the four levels of a real estate photography business:
1. Start up
2. Growth
3. Team-building
4. Scale

I'll help you identify which level you're at right now, and by the end of the video you'll have a clear picture of the changes you need to make if you want to step up to the next level.

Here's what we covered in this episode (you can jump to the different sections in the video timeline):

0:00 - Intro
3:12 - The 4 levels of a photography business
3:59 - 1. Startup
5:16 - 2. Growth
7:43 - 3. Team-building
9:55 - 4. Scale
12:35 - Summary of how to get to the next level

Video transcript

Real estate photographers: Take your business to the next level

So, how do you take your business to the next level? First of all, you need to define what the next level looks like. A lot of photographers have this goal of ‘getting to the next level’, but they don’t really know what that means other than maybe getting bigger. So when you’re thinking about what that next level looks like for your business, you might find it helpful to set objective criteria so you know where you’re going.

So what I mean there is that, instead of just saying “I want to grow my business”, you would say, “By July next year I want to be doing $8000 per month in sales.” That’s a very specific statement, it’s got a time limit, and you can then build a strategy around how you’re going to achieve that particular goal. Whereas if you just say, “I want to grow”, then it’s kind of too vague to really do anything about it, and maybe that’s why you haven’t reached that next level yet.

So let’s dig a bit deeper into this, and I want to talk about 4 levels of business so you have something conceptual to build upon, but before I get to that I want to share something that’s really important, regardless of where you are at with your business, and it's this:

You won’t get to the next level until everything aligns with where you want to be.

I want to say that again:

You won’t get to the next level until everything aligns with where you want to be.

For example, let’s say you work with budget clients and you want to start working with luxury clients. And let’s imagine that this circle represents everything you do – the quality of your photography, your customer service, your online presence, your pricing, everything – all of that needs to shift from budget level to luxury level, and you need to do that before you start working with those luxury clients.

So wherever you’re at, as you think about how you’re going to make that jump up to the next level, look at yourself and your business and all that’s in it, and make sure you’re shifting everything up, because without that you’re going to find it difficult to reach that next level. Does that make sense?

Ok, let’s think about the different levels of a photography business, and I think there are 4 levels:
Start up
and Scale.

Now, you don’t have to go through all 4 stages. So if you just want to work by yourself and if you don’t want to build a team, then you might be really happy stopping at the growth stage, and that’s totally fine. You can absolutely do that – it’s totally up to you.

But let’s look at each of those levels so you know what level you’re on right now, and then we’ll look at how you could make the jump from one level to the next.

Level 1. Startup.

So to kick things off, level 1 is the startup stage, and that’s where you’re building the foundation of your business and getting everything started. So in terms of the foundation we’re talking about things like setting appropriate pricing, being active on social media, creating a professional looking website, building your skills so you can deliver great work, and most importantly, you’re going to ensure that your brand aligns with where you ultimately want to be.

In a previous show I talked about the different business models that a photographer can choose to go with, and that’s important even in this startup phase where you’re building your foundation – are you going to position your brand as a high-volume, low-cost business or are you going to be a business that charges higher fees, or are you going to be somewhere in the middle?

Now if you haven’t yet finished building your foundation then maybe you’re still in the start up phase, and that’s okay. Sometimes it can take a few years to do all of that, so don’t assume that you’ve moved past that because you’ve been doing this for 2 or 3 years – you may actually still be at that startup level, so I’d love to hear if that’s where you are right now, so leave a comment and let me know if you’re at the start up level.

Level 2. Growth.

Now if you have finished all of that, the next level is the growth stage, and this is where you’ve got a strong focus on growing your business. So you’ll know that you’re in the growth phase when, first of all, you’ve finished building the foundation of your business, and that’s important. Secondly, you’ll be actively marketing your business and you’re bringing in more clients.

Can I ask, how many of you think you might be in the growth stage? So you think you’ve built your foundation and you’re actively getting clients? Leave a comment and let me know if you think that’s where you are.

So, if you're currently at the startup level, how do you step up to this growth level?

First of all, you’re not going to get past the startup level until you’ve finished building your foundation, so make sure you’ve done all that we spoke about for the startup phase. That’s the first step.

Secondly, at the growth level you’re going to spend a lot of time and energy on marketing your business, so if you want to get to the growth stage then you'll need to immerse yourself in building connections and getting clients. Now I know that’s difficult, especially during the growth phase because you’re still working by yourself and you’re trying to get so much done, so you’re going to have to get really good at time management, but if you’re serious about growing your business then you’re going to have to put in some hard yards when it comes to marketing. There are no shortcuts – it’s just a matter of committing your time and energy to getting more clients, and if you want more on how to get clients then go back to my video on marketing for real estate and architectural photographers.

So going back to how you move from startup to growth, the third thing you’ll need to do is build systems and processes so that things like the booking process and your communication with clients can run smoothly, and if that’s not something you’re doing yet then it’s something you’ll want to start on, especially if you want to be moving to higher levels later on.

So if you want to shift from startup to growth, then those are the things you’ll need to be doing. Does that make sense?

Level 3. Team-building

Alright, so you might be quite happy at that growth stage, you’re earning a great income and you might enjoy doing everything yourself, but if you want to step up then the next level is all about team-building, so this is where you expand your company so you’ve got the capacity to work with more clients.

So if you’re bringing in new team members, if you’ve taken on the role of team leader so you’re not just a solo photographer anymore, and if you’re targeting the big fish in your market, that is, the clients that do a lot of work, then you’ll know you’re in the team-building phase.

Now I’m interested to hear from you – are you in the team-building stage at the moment? Leave a comment and let me know if you think that’s where you are.

But for those of you still in the growth stage, how do you step up to this team-building stage? What do you actually need to do to get there?

First of all, you may need to make some changes to your pricing before you start hiring so you can pay your people well. I mean, if you’re only expanding your team because you’re busy, but you’re busy because you only charge $120 per shoot, then you’re probably not charging enough to cover those new team members that you’re hiring.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, if you want to grow your team then you’ll want to create a training process so you can efficiently train your new team members in what they need to do. Now you’re going to want to invest a lot into that because this is such an important step, and that’s because a really good training program is going to allow you to hire the best people and get the most out of them.

Now some photographers have a lot of problems with team members, and I get that because it is tricky, and I had some challenges when I was building my team, but if you are having some problems it’s possibly because you haven’t got the right training process, so that’s something you’ll want to get right.

Of course, as you build your team you’ll also want to be attracting more clients, so you’ll continue with the marketing that you were doing at the growth stage, and hopefully all of that great work you’re doing with your marketing is the reason why you need to expand your team. Make sense?

Level 4. Scale

Alright, so that’s how you move from the growth stage to the team-building stage. Now the next stage, if you want to go to that level, and some people will and some won’t, but if you want to go the next level beyond team building then that’s where you’ll scale your business.

Now this is where you’ll probably stop doing photo shoots yourself, because your focus once you hit that level is all about business growth and seeking to expand into new markets and possibly new territories. So maybe at the team-building stage you had 3 or 4 team members, but at the scale stage you’ll be aiming for a big team, maybe 10 to 20 photographers or more, and they could all be working across one large city, or you could potentially stretch out across your state or multiple locations.

Once you get to that level then the option is there for you to largely step away from the company and leave it in the hands of your team, so they basically run things and you might oversee the operation, but you could choose to be largely absent from the day to day business, but again that’s up to you.
So how do you shift from team-building to where you’re really scaling your business?

Well, most of this involves a continuation from what you were doing at the team-building level, but your own focus will be much more on management and operations, so if you want to get to that level then your systems will be super important, and there’s no reason why you can’t start on that right now, regardless of the level you’re at.

You’ll also be putting a lot of work into identifying new opportunities and researching new markets, so that’s where you’ll go back to the marketing efforts you built during the growth stage and this is where you’re going to expand on that in a big way. You’re also going to go big with finding and training the right people to join your business, and again that’s what you were doing during the team-building phase.

So when it comes to scaling, what you’re really doing is just 10 times what you were doing at previous stages. So marketing goes to 10x and your hiring goes to 10x and that’s how you scale your photography business.


Now it's time for some Q&A, so if you're watching live, do you have any questions about any of that? Have I clearly explained how you can move from one level to the next? Now I realise I’ve been a little generic with some of this, and if I was working with you then we’d address your specific issues and get things going in a way that works for you, but if you have some specific questions about your business feel free to drop a comment and I’ll try and help as much as I can.

Now while I’m waiting for any comments from the people who are watching live, let’s quickly go through this again so you’re all clear on what I’m talking about:

If you want to go to the next level, then first of all you need to identify where you’re at right now, and the four different levels we spoke about are:
Firstly, the startup phase.
The second one is the growth phase.
Next is team-building.
The final one is where you scale your business.

Then depending on where you are, there are different things you need to do to take your business from one level to the next, but the most important point is this: you won’t get to the next level until everything aligns with where you want to be.

So a startup company is still building the foundation of their business, but a growth company is focused on marketing. So if you’re currently a startup and you want to step up a level, then you need to finish building your foundation and then start focusing on marketing.

Or if you want to move from growth to team-building, then you need to shift your focus toward leadership and training processes so you can efficiently grow your team.

Or if you have a team and you want to scale, then you’ll shift your focus toward identifying new markets so you can continue building upon what you’ve done in the team-building stage.

And that is how you take your business to the next level