Focal CEO Lachlan Shum

Growing your Photography Business: One-on-One with Lachlan Shum

Is it time to take your photography business to the next level? Do you want to figure out who your ideal clients are and how you can reach them? We talk with CEO Lachlan Shum about Focal’s Business Accelerator Program, a free three-session course designed to help photographers better build their business through one-on-one mentorship.

A not-so-simple problem

When I started Focal I was naïve. I knew how hard I’d found it to book a good photographer and that a lot of other people shared this same sentiment, but I thought the solution was as simple as listing a bunch of photographers on a website. 

What I came to realize was that the real problem wasn’t necessarily finding the photographers, but that a lot of photographers weren’t conveying their value to potential clients like me.

Read more: How to stand out in a saturated photography industry

My background is in sales, so when I saw a photographer describing their services like, “Here’s my full-day wedding package. It’s $3000 and you’ll get 500 photos,” I wondered how [their] clients were supposed to know what separated that photographer from another one offering the same deal for less. They weren’t explaining what their experience offered, what set them apart.

Other companies have tried to address the problem by removing photographers from the equation. They would put a salesperson in between the client and the photographer to facilitate the booking process. We actually tried that model for a while - we would find leads and “sling photoshoots” - but I found that introduced a lot of friction. Clients were confused when they wanted to inquire about a shoot with a photographer and they found themselves talking to me instead. What ends up happening is the photographers lose a lot of the ownership over their bookings. 

What made more sense to me was to give the photographers the tools they need to sell themselves. That became the foundation of Focal, to solve the problem of connecting photographers with clients. The idea for the accelerator program grew from there.

Empowering photographers

I noticed that when I used to ask photographers to list their packages on Focal they would just put up basic information like ‘family shoot, one hour, $200’ -- there wasn’t any story or detail. So what I started doing was inviting photographers to have a coffee with me. When we sat down, I would ask about their photoshoots, and they would end up telling me all these great and unique things they had to offer that the client had no idea about.

One day I was talking to Christin, one of our photographers, and I asked her to tell me about what her newborn shoots were like. She told me how she would put the due date down in her calendar and make sure to keep some time open on either side, so she could be available when the baby arrived. She keeps lots of toys around her studio and she makes sure that it’s very warm to make the baby more comfortable. There was all this fantastic story and detail, but her package description was missing all of that. I wanted to get all this great information out there, so they could really explain the value of their shoot. 

Read more: Why your photography investment page needs fixing

So I came up with the Business Accelerator Program. It’s a program designed for photographers who are really good at being photographers but might be struggling with the business side. We want to help them figure out who their ideal clients are and how they can reach them. 

Understanding the situation

Most of the photographers who I see come through the program fall into two categories.

The first is new photographers who want to take their business to the next level. These are usually people who’ve been charging fairly low prices for a while and are starting to get established. Now they want to start increasing their prices and appear more professional. They want to go from managing everything through their email to having an automated system in place; they want a more organized and sustainable business.

The second category I see often are people who are already quite established. They’ve watched their business grow organically, and they’re well known in their community, but maybe they’ve moved across the country, or between countries, and now they’re starting from square one again. 

Read more: How Christin Carruthers rebuilt her photography business after moving across the country

They know how to run their business, they know how to be a great photographer, but now they really have to dig into what made them successful back home and figure out how to get that going again. They’re starting from the beginning in terms of acquiring clients, and sometimes they need help. 

Rebuilding your foundation

The Accelerator Program is really a crash course in business management created for photographers.

It starts with getting you, the photographer, to think about who you’re serving and who your ideal clients are. As a photographer you have a unique set of skills and personality, and this carries through to your work. There’s a client out there who is going to appreciate how you approach things, and you need to figure out who that is. It’s sort of like, “The wand chooses the wizard, Harry.”

Watch: Finding your ideal photography clients starts with you

Next we work out what you offer that really resonates with your  clients. It’s really important for you as a photographer to convey the experience that you offer, so the client can decide if it’s right for them. Once you know what people appreciate about your work you can create something tangible, a detailed package that really explains the value you bring to your shoots.

By the third session you’ll know who your customer is and what you have to offer them, but how do you reach them? We talk about marketing tactics and the different ways you can reach your client base, how you can better sell yourself. After finishing the accelerator program, you’ll have a good business foundation that you can continue to build upon.

In sales the whole purpose is to show how your product or service is different from another, which is what we want to do with Focal and the Business Accelerator Program – help photographers better convey their value so they can build their client base.

Check out the Business Accelerator Program

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