Four Books Every Photographer Business Owner Must Read
For most, January 1, 2020 marked the beginning of a new decade. Maybe the changing of the calendar brought with it some new resolutions, goals, or pledges to work toward making dreams reality. For me, though? I was happy to simply have made it to this date. Not because I wanted to rush through the 2010s, but because it officially marked ten years being full time in business as Daniel Moyr Photography.
When I began my business, I read Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. In the book, Gerber gives some eye-opening statistics about small businesses. About half of all small businesses manage to survive for five years and, of this half, only one-third of small businesses will see their ten-year anniversary. That’s right, just over fifteen percent of small businesses last a decade or longer. Reading those numbers shocked me, but they also made me realize I had to work that much harder—and smarter.
Now it should be easy to see why January 1, 2020 held all that significance for me. Starting my own business was a way to manage my own schedule, to work as a full-time photographer, and to be in total control of satisfying my clients, many of whom have become walking, talking billboards for my business and, more importantly, friends to me personally. To lose all this would have been, to put it mildly, regrettable.
Over the past ten years, I’ve fielded a lot of the same questions from various photographers. What education should invest in, such as books, workshops, conferences, courses, etc., and what gear should I use. I’ve talked previously about some of my favorite gear in a recent post “The Minimalist Guide to Wedding Photography Gear,” so I wanted to tackle the question on education here, sharing some of the books that have helped me run a profitable, joyful, and fulfilling business for over ten years.
The books I’ve listed below cover topics and ideas I’ve put into practice for years, testing their methods myself. (The exception to this rule is the book Profit First, which I recently read in early 2019, and I’m kicking myself for not reading it earlier!) It’s not the end all, be all, of books to read. There are many more that I love, and many more on my list to read next but these below are tried and true.
Below my top four, I’ve also listed some honorable mentions that are also incredible resources. Some of them I haven’t had the same amount of time with to test their longevity and usefulness, which is why they haven’t made the list.
THE LIST OF FOUR BOOKS EVERY PHOTOGAPHER BUSINESS OWNER MUST READ:
There’s a reason this book is number one on this list even though it is one of my more recent reads. If you only have time to crack one book from this list, this is my recommendation. In just over a year, it has transformed my business in a way nothing else has.
For the first nine years of my business, I’d see the numbers at the end of the year and all too often I’d wonder, where did all the money I made go? Profits have a way of being poured back into the business or sent, with nary a love note and a box of chocolates, along to Uncle Sam.
2019 was a scary year for a lot of us in the wedding business because bookings during the first half of the year were very low. I kept looking at my five- and ten-year plans, and they seemed great, but I needed shorter-term plans as well because of how quickly and drastically the industry can fluctuate. I asked myself, “If inquiries dry up right now, how long can I support my family and my business from my savings?” I didn’t like the answer I came up with, so I had to set to work using the methods I learned from Profit First.
Profit First is a quick read. I listened to the audiobook over two long runs as I trained for a half-marathon, and I was even able to implement the things I learned from the book within an hour.
Mike Michalowicz’s idea is based on the envelope system. It’s a system that’s stood the test of time, as it worked for many of our parents and grandparents. Once you set up your accounts, which only took me one trip to the bank and fifteen minutes online, you’ll know where every penny your business takes in goes, what it does, and who it hangs out with. In the photography business, with its irregular cash flow, Profit First is an invaluable—and, again, quick—read.
2. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (99U)
Second to managing finances, I’ve found that the most difficult task creatives struggle with is managing themselves. Every business needs three mindsets A la Michael Gerber: The Entrepreneur, the Manager, and the Technician. Many photographers get into the business because they are technically savvy and can take a decent shot. They cover the Technician and the Entrepreneur. But are they ready to manage?
When the rubber meets the road, you have to manage taxes, design albums, send 1099s, blast out e-mails, create and send proposals, and, oh yeah, take and edit pictures. (Not to mention spending time with your family and maintaining your own sanity.) Managing yourself is the part of the job most Technicians and Entrepreneurs have the least experience with. That’s where Manage Your Day-to-Day comes in. Each chapter is broken down into a bite-sized chunk with actionable information. It comes with tangible inspiration from well-known thinkers, business owners, and authors to make you more productive right from Chapter 1.
3. A Simple Path to Wealth OR
The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
A Simple Path to Wealth by JL Collins is my favorite money management book for those who are debt free. However, most people live paycheck to paycheck and have accumulated debt. If you’re debt free, then check out Collins’ book, but if not it might be one step too far.
For anyone carrying debt, Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover gives a very simple path toward minimizing that burden. It certainly helped me. Ramsey’s book will help you pay off debts while creating and building a cash emergency fund.
Once you are out of debt it is certainly worth returning to A Simple Path to Wealth. Being self-employed means many photographers don’t have access to a company 401k so we’re left wondering what to do. As an alternative, A Simple Path to Wealth will help you create wealth from your own paycheck. JL Collins has a simple but important mantra: “Spend less than you earn. Invest the rest. Avoid debt at all costs.”
This book does such an incredible job on challenging you to look at every part of your client interactions. The authors suggest that every single consumer enters a business transaction expecting a certain “script.” It’s the business owner’s job to turn the situation into something pleasantly surprising instead of the typical mundanity the consumer expects. Turning these transactions into an experience will make you memorable and have your clients raving about you. Soon you’ll be “filling the valleys” and “elevating the peaks” in order to create unforgettable experiences for your clients!
Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins is not a business book, but it will help you shift your mindset so you can better overcome obstacles. It’s a bit of an intense read, but I believe it will become known as one of the greatest self-improvement books ever written.
The E- Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber is on the top of many “must read” lists for business owners over the last few decades. It’s the first business book I read and it’s a great place to start.
Best Business Practices for Photographers by John Harrington is the photographer’s business Bible. It’s the go-to for any question I have about the photography business.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss taught me that everyone has some kind of motivation, whether hidden or explicit, behind the requests they ask of you. By using some of the tools Voss shares, you can get into the mindsets of your clients to best understand what they are really asking of you and why they are asking it. These tools will help you build trust and reach a deal.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek is an incredible book about finding the “why” for your business. Answering “to make money” is not going to inspire any potential clients to hire you. This book shares stories and anecdotes from historical figures and leaders as to how they inspired millions. Here’s a short TED talk from Simon Sinek on the same subject: Simon Sinek TED Talk
Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith will help you rethink marketing for service businesses. It’s another easy read that will give you a jolt into thinking differently on how to stand apart in a crowded field.
Magnum Contact Sheets by Kristen Lubben puts you inside the minds of some of the best photojournalists as they discuss the selection of famous photos from the actual film contact sheets.
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