Starting Over: Top 5 Tips

Starting over is exciting.  I started my business more than 10 years ago, and it has continually evolved into something I feel is really great.  We consistently book more than a year in advance without paid advertising.  We have fun, we love our clients, and make a great living for ourselves. So, when we decided to launch a new branch of our brand called Secret Sessions (our boudoir division), we found ourselves doing something we hadn’t had to do in a long time: start over.

Much has changed in a decade.  Digital cameras changed everything.  Then, blogs changed everything.  Then, Facebook changed everything.  Change is so continuous, it’s sometimes a full-time job just to keep up with changes in technology, and that’s on top of actually taking photographs, fulfilling print orders, and all the day-to-day tasks a studio owner endures.

In order to launch our new brand, it makes total sense to examine what went right and what went awry the first time around.  So, here is my top five homeruns over the past 10 years.

5. Put money back into my business – When I made money for my business, I never paid myself with cash. Instead, I’d buy something the business needed, normally equipment. It was a great (and fun) way to build my business without going into debt.  I’m happy to say that I have never been in debt in my business.  Like in my life, my business doesn’t own a credit card.  I know, I know, there are lots of great reward programs that credit cards offer.  However, there is also the temptation to use them.  Coming from humble beginnings, I adapted a rule that if I couldn’t save enough money for something, I didn’t really want it.  It should be said that I’m not a financial expert, and there are many great businesses that use debt to create a lot of money, but I am not one of them.

4. Creating a huge online presence –  I started my website ( eight years ago.  In 2002, there weren’t a ton of photographers who had good websites.  As a somewhat geeky twenty-something, I loved learning html, and then flash, and then css.  My website has been through a wild ride this past decade, and I learned a lot in the process.  However, my baby has been my blog.  In its relative infancy (started in 2006) I have devoted countless hours into growing this into the site it is now.  We now receive about 1100 hits per day, and half of those are email/RSS subscribers.  It helps motivate me to send out regular, relevant content when I know that over a thousand current clients and photographers will be reading it.  I’ve updated it every single day since 2008, and have no plans of stopping anytime soon.

3. Make a commitment to social media/marketing – As a business owner, I’m constantly paranoid and therefore strive to keep my name out there.  Yes, even though we booked up all of 2010 way back in October, I still freak out.  Now, I’m freaking out about 2011 because I only have 5 weddings booked.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s how I motivate myself.  It also might be why I’m bald.  Ha ha.  The main way we combat this and to get our name out there is through social media.  We’re big on twitter ( and on facebook ( and now get most of our business through the two sites.  We tag brides weekly, but we also tag vendors (one of Meredith’s brilliant ideas).  Our fan page has more than 2000 members, so every time we send out a post it reaches a fairly large audience.  I love keeping my name on the forefront of my clients’ minds!

2. Give back to my community – My community has been really, really good to me.  It has allowed me to leave my “real job” of teaching, though I loved it, and support my family.  From humble beginnings, I realize the value of charitable organizations.  For that reason, among others, it has always been supremely important to give back to the community that has given so much to me.  We’ve made a commitment to give every single month, whether it be monetary donations or through shooting, for the past 25 months, and plan on giving even more in 2010.

1. Form relationships with my clients and vendors – this was probably the hardest for me to wrap my brain around.  Luckily I wised up about three years ago.  By taking my clients out to dinner and by meeting our vendor friends regularly, I’m now high on the referral circuit and get most of my business this way.  With my clients, I make sure to give them an unforgettable experience, not just great images.  Vendors want to work with photographers they enjoy, so getting to know them on a personal level is a way to ensure our longevity.  Plus, it’s great having friends with similar interests, right?!

So, there you have it.  I believe if we use these same principles to our new branch of services we will succeed.

Here’s to you hitting some homeruns yourself,

Dale Benfield
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