Five Steps to Creating Your 5-Year Business Plan

Question: What is the quickest access to growth in my business? What should my five year plan be?

I’m afraid there isn’t a magic formula in commercial photography and illustration for quick growth. The most effective way to grow your business is by creating a strong business plan. A 5-year business plan can be looked at simply as a map that will help you drive action and keep you focused on your business’ goals.

You want your plan to help you do the following:

  1. Evaluate where you fit into the marketplace.
  2. Target clients who are the most appropriate for your business.
  3. Track successes and failures to help further fine tune your plan.

Step One: Identify What You Do Best

Before you say anything, you would be surprised how many artists think they know what they do best and don’t. You can’t just be good at lifestyle photography or illustrating storybooks, you need to think about this question in terms of your strongest visual strengths. Maybe you relate well to people and you can get your subject to feel relaxed in the portrait, or maybe you have a knack for bringing a real-life aspect to your illustrations. These strengths are important because competition is fierce out there. Building an effective strategy for your business plan starts with a strong foundation. That foundation is being able to say “this is what I do best.”

Step Two: Understanding Your Brand

What sort of personality comes through in your work? Do those portraits you take seem heroic or maybe the subject looks accessible? Maybe your lifestyle imagery is authentic? Pull a blank piece of paper out and start writing down characteristics you think can be associated with your work. This step is probably the most crucial in defining a direction for your business plan strategy. Once you know your brand, then you can start to find clients that have similar brand characteristics. If you have a good sense of humor, maybe the brands most suited to your work are Burger King, AXE for men’s hair care, or GEICO insurance.

This step is ultimately about defining your targeted client base and then identifying their needs. Clients rarely find photographers these days. It’s your job to profile the clients you want to work with. Get online and do your research. Create a targeted list of potential clients relevant to your vision and brand.

Step Three: Positioning and Consistency

Now that you know what it is you do well and what your brand is, it’s time to get consistent with your marketing message. Let’s not confuse the client. If you say you do “this” well within your industry, make sure it’s clear throughout all of your marketing talking points. Your task is to get the right product in front of the right client, at the right time. Do this and you will generate interest and brand recognition that will lead to work.

Step Four, Part A: Create Your Own Advertising Campaign

You won’t get work by explaining what you do to clients – they’re advertisers. Play their game and sell yourself to them. Brainstorm – meet up with folks you trust. How can you distinguish yourself from the other photographers and illustrators competing for the same jobs? Can you come up with an idea that illustrates your talent, knowledge of the client’s target market, AND make yourself look creative and fun to work with?

Your campaign needs to consist of a mix of direct mail, viral, word of mouth and other types of marketing and PR efforts. Most photographers look at their marketing budget as 10 percent to 20 percent of what they made last year. If you didn’t make anything last year, than what’s 10 percent to 20 percent of what you wish you made? If you want to be considered one of the big guys, than you need to act like one of the big guys. If you have no money to budget towards marketing than get super creative – put yourself in your client’s shoes, what would grab your attention?

The Business Lab Photographer Dennis Lane Portfolio resized 600

This image is part of photographer Dennis Lane’s promotional campaign. These popup spreads from his print portfolio help him distinguish himself from other sports photographers. From the distressed wood cover, to the dynamic images jumping off the page… The book assures Dennis will make a memorable first impression. Check out to see more of Dennis’ work.

Step Four, Part B: Set Realistic Goals for Your Campaign

You want to set specific bench marks for your business. Pull the calendar up. Start thinking about what sort of growth you want to see for the first year to the fifth year. Think about your budget and start building a campaign for the year that touches on different methods of communication within the month or quarter.

Step Five: One Word – LISTEN

Relationships can make or break a career. Whether you are in a small, medium or large market, it is crucial you mix with the people that can help your career. Meet ups, networking events, portfolio reviews, coffee with friends of friends, cold calls, reps … And when you are talking with all those people, there are four things you need to ask them:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. What are your weaknesses?
  3. Where is there opportunity for your work?
  4. What threats should you be aware of?

These conversations help you stress test your business. Remember, advice is just someone’s opinion based on their personal experience. Take it for what it’s worth. I find even the worse advice has a grain of something worth thinking about. Apply this advice to your plan, along with your successes and failures in promoting.

There is no text book method to building your business plan. It is important to be flexible. Give your plan life, and let it move forward, even if it starts to take on a slightly different direction.

About Karen

Karen D’Silva is one of today’s most influential creatives in the commercial photography community. She founded Karen DSilva Creative Services, a trend, marketing and research company designed to help photographers understand the marketplace, find where their images fit, and profile and market to clients who share the same photographic vision. Karen DSilva Creative Services

Related Articles:

1. Your Website and Social Media Are Not Enough

2. Taking On an Artist Representative

3. Creative Collision: Let Your Style “Complement” Your Brand

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