Goal Setting + Business Planning for Photographers

For Photographers

I was doing the math the other morning and realized that this April I will have been business for 15 YEARS. That is 15 years of goal setting. Granted, my business planning process has changed dramatically through the years! I’ve read business books, learned from other entrepreneurs about their processes, tried various activities…all of which have led me to the goal setting and business planning process that I use for my businesses today.

Today I’m sharing my start to finish process in hopes that it will serve as a blueprint for others that want to set goals and make a plan for their own businesses.

First, a couple things I thought it important to note:

+ I’m a big believer in “eat the fish and leave the bones” and think that concept very much applies here. Goal setting and business planning certainly isn’t a one size fits all – my process is no exception. Take what you want from my process that you think will work for your own unique business and leave the rest! 

+ I’ve most enjoyed my business planning when I can do it from a place that inspires me. If it is within your means, consider making a weekend of it – book an Airbnb in the mountains with a couple of business owning friends and go through the process together! Or maybe you book a local hotel room for a night and make it staycation. Or at minimum, go to a coffee shop that you get good vibes from and do your work there. This should be fun and you should feel inspired! 

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STEP ONE – SELF ASSESSMENT

To kick things off, I always take 10 minutes or so to jot down some answers to a set of questions I’ve developed for myself that get me in the right headspace for my planning process.

A few of the questions:

  • What were some of my highs, accomplishments or best moments from the previous year?
  • What were some of my greatest lows or challenges from the previous year?
  • What do I want to “say yes” to in the coming year?
  • What do I need to “say no” to in the coming year?

 

For this part of my process, I don’t limit myself just to business, but include other parts of my life if I feel they are most noteworthy.

To receive access to the full set of questions to print and answer for yourself, click HERE to get it!

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STEP TWO – WHITEBOARD BRAINSTORM

I love this part. Not only does it give me another way to get my brain working and the ideas flowing, but it gets me excited for the coming year!

I sit down with a large piece of white foam board (like these ones) and a set of pretty markers (not necessary obviously, but I like this set of pastel highlighters) and create sections for the areas of life that are most important to me.

From there, I brainstorm all of the things that I want to make happen in the upcoming year for each section. This part is especially fun to do with a friend or two or more, as I always get ideas and am inspired by what they come up with.

Definitely make sure you include your business as one of your sections to get some initial ideas out. You can refer back to the other sections when you go to make plans for your life outside of business.

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STEP THREE – PRIOR YEAR BUSINESS REVIEW

It’s highly important to take some time to look at the year behind you before you make plans for where you are going. Ask yourself (and write down!):

  • What were my biggest business wins (celebrate these!) and what were my greatest challenges?
  • What were my key metrics in the prior business year (where did my leads come from?, how many bookings did I end up with?, how much of each product did I sell?, how much revenue did each product or service bring in?, what percentage of leads did I convert into bookings?, what were my monthly and annual expenses?)?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would I rate the health of each facet of my business operations (i.e. administrative systems, creative process, client experience, workflow, business relationships, team culture, marketing, professional development, etc.)?

 

STEP FOUR – VISION CASTING

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”, right? (Proverbs 29:18)

Questions to ask yourself as you think about your “why” for your business and where you want to be in the future:

  • What is my core purpose summarized into 1-2 sentences?
  • Where do I want my business to be in 3 years from today (I personally can’t think beyond 3 years, but you may want to consider having a 5 to 10 year out vision)?
  • Where do I want my business to be in 1 year from today?
  • What is my gross revenue goal for the upcoming year?
  • What is the best thing that could happen to my business this year and what do I need to do to make that happen?

 

If you are like me and sometimes down’t like the fluffy stuff and want to get right down to a tactical plan to get things done, you may be tempted to skip over this part of the process. Don’t do it. Put in the time and effort. Do the work to get at the heart of your business and figure out why you do what you do. Trust me when I say it’s going to carry you when things get hard.

 

STEP FIVE – CALENDAR PLANNING

Whether it be all online or an old-school paper planner, get out your calendar (I use Golden Coil for my annual planner and absolutely LOVE it). Before you can make your business plans and set realistic goals, you’ll need to input any important pre-existing dates that you know are happening for sure.

Be sure to include: birthdays, vacations, days your kids are out of school, booked weddings and/or portrait sessions, quarterly planning days (set these now!), etc.

 

STEP SIX – GOAL SETTING

After reading The 12 Week Year, I have decided that I won’t be setting any annual goals this year. I have a general aim for where I want to be at the end of the year, which I determined back in step #4 during my vision casting, but my focus and goals will be determined one quarter at a time and my actions steps, one month at a time.

First, a note about goal setting.

Your goals need to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time Bound). Choose goals that are within your control to achieve. A common mistake I see photographers make is to choose the goal of “book x number of weddings each month”. That’s a great aim, but it’s not a goal, as it’s not within your control to actually meet. A goal to get you closer to booking x number of weddings could be “develop and implement a marketing plan”. That is something that you have control over. Make sense?

Setting quarter goals

  • Take a few minutes to look back over the work that you just did in steps 1-5 and make note of what stands out to you for what you need to be doing for the upcoming quarter. What will really move the needle in the growth of your business and will get you closer to where you are aiming to be at the end of the year? What matters most?
  • From what you’ve identified as most important, prioritize even further and choose 1-3 final goals for the quarter.
  • For each goal, determine a set of “action items”. Your action items are going to be your weekly “to-do’s” in order to meet your goal.

 

Set monthly focus

  • In order to really gain some traction in making your goals happen and not get overwhelmed and discouraged, choose just 1 of your set goal to focus on for the month. One goal that come hell or high water, you are going to meet. Make sure you look back at your calendar to see what you already have on the books for life and business so you can choose to focus on a goal that will be attainable.
  • At the beginning of each new month, reassess your action items for the goal that you are focused on and assign due dates for each item that you can work toward weekly.

 

For this year, I went ahead and purchased the materials needed to display my quarterly plan and monthly focuses in my office, right next to my desk. It’s huge (24×36!), so I can see loud and clear where I’m headed every single day that I’m working (note: I keep my weekly action items listed in my Golden Coil planner).

If you want to create the same for yourself, here are the links to do that:

“My Quarterly Plan” printable (I had it printed for a few dollars as a blueprint from Staples)

Wet-erase markers (they are smudge-free, unlike dry erase markers; I got the fine tip)

Frame (there are gold and black versions as well – the light wood best fits my decor)

 


 

There you have it….my full process for annual goal setting and business planning. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help as you set your business goals!

 

Get your free copy of my Self Assessment questions from step #1 here.

Find more help with your photography business by following along with me on Instagram here.

 

Cheyenne Schultz

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