It’s no coincidence that the majority of photography products go on sale during the last quarter; it coincides with our busy season.  (Side question for my Aussie or southern hemisphere readers….when is your busy season?  Is it your “fall” or is it now with the lead up to Christmas?  Let me know in the comments!)  Our bank accounts are often at their highest levels of any other time of the year and that can lead us to make impulse purchases since we feel so flush with cash.

This is something that I have been incredibly guilty of and still find myself occasionally making purchases that I really didn’t need to.  I built my business by “bootstrapping”, or reinvesting the money that I earned into the business and using that revenue only when purchasing business related expenses.  It was also helpful that I still held a full time job during the first year of my business.  The only money that I invested at the beginning was for the basics, a Canon 7D, the Canon 70-200 2.8, and the Canon 24-70 2.8, as well as Photoshop CS4.  I was determined NOT to go into debt at the beginning (or now!) of my business.

If you are in the first year or two of your business, you may not be paying yourself anything yet and simply reinvesting every penny you earn back into your business.  This is good in that it helps you grow your business more quickly, but can also quickly lead to burnout.  I recommend paying yourself a small salary, even $100 a month to start so that you get in the habit of paying yourself!  I also recommend really examining EVERY purchase before you make it, no matter what stage of business you are in.   Keep in mind that the money you make in this quarter needs to help carry your business in the slower first quarter as well!

It seemed that after every purchase I said to myself, “ok, now I have everything I need.”  I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of money I wasted along the way on things like templates that I didn’t need, superfluous e-books that I didn’t need, or overprinting marketing pieces that I thought for sure I would want to use forever!

Before you whip out that company credit card and purchase the next shiny thing really ask yourself,   “What is the Return on Investment?”.   There are three different types of purchases that I feel can have a large return on investment, but if they are purchased at the wrong times it can be a drain on your cash flow and the health of your business.

I feel that the investment that has the highest return on investment is education.  The key to not wasting money here is to choose the right education at the RIGHT TIME.  Take about 20 minutes and perform a SWOT analysis of your business.  Really think about your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities in the marketplace, and Threats in the marketplace.  By really honing in on these details as it relates to your business you can see where you want to focus your education resources.  Do you want to improve your marketing, technical shooting skills, post-processing skills, or client experience?  I recently wrote a post on some of the most beneficial educational opportunities for pet photographers that I experienced.  At the end of this post I will review a few of the great e-books out there.  These are e-books that I have personally purchased, used, and feel that they could be of a great benefit to you.   I would never recommend a resource that I don’t believe in fully.

Along the same lines of education, I highly recommend attending a trade show like WPPI or Imaging USA (PPA’s annual conference).  Not only do you get to hear presentations from some of the industry’s leaders there is a HUGE tradeshow with every product imaginable.  This is a must go type of place if you are struggling to decide what exactly you want to offer your clients in terms of products.  One of the ways that you can differentiate your business from the sea of competing photographers is to offer unique products and there is no better way to find those products then perusing the tradeshow floor.

The second type of purchase is gear.  Now please hear me, this does not give you permission to just go out and buy more gear because it’s new, shiny and has a low f-stop.  I have been rocking my business with a cropped sensor since the beginning, however now that I have really fine tuned my shooting style and know the types of sessions my business is going to focus on I am starting to find that my images would benefit from a full sensor camera.  After almost every session I find myself wishing there was just a little more in the frame of some of the images.  Due to how I interact with my humane and canine subjects, backing up isn’t an option for me.  I also find that I would love to have a camera with a little better ISO capabilities.  I do sometimes shoot in homes and even with a fast lens I would like to push my ISO up past 800 or 1000 but that creates too much grain for my tastes on my current camera.  Do not upgrade your equipment until you find that you are limited by it, not because there is something new.

The third type of purchase that is can have a high return on investment is on purchases that save you time.  I use MOIRAI Compositor and Sequence for saving lots of time when blogging and editing my images.  This has paid for itself many times over by giving me more time to work on my business instead of in my business.  Always be on the lookout for ways to streamline your workflow, as time is money.  I have started using Marathon Press for designing and printing some of my marketing materials.  It saves me time and they can create a design that compliments my brand.

As I mentioned before, I wanted to review a few e-books that I have personally found very helpful in my business and the reasons that you may want to invest in them.

Do you want to improving your website?  The Irresistible Website from Jenika at Psychology for Photographers.  If you have read any of Jenika’a articles you know that she is full of incredible insight on all of the topics that she writes about.  A few months ago she released an e-book on creating a website that becomes a client magnet.  She uses human behavior to help you design a website that speaks to YOUR client and gets them to contact you.  From really drilling down to your target client and how to speak to them this e-book is worth every penny if your website isn’t performing for you like you wish it would.

Do you want to improve your SEO and web marketing?  Now that you have a great website, it has to be found in Google search.  Zach Prez is an SEO and web marketing genius and his books are also full of incredible advice.  You can read an interview he did for Hair of the Dog about 5 marketing tips that will change your business.   I highly recommend his books, and right now there is a special in which you can get all 3 books for only $49 (regularly $87).

Do you need basic pricing direction?  You may have heard of Alicia Caine’s Easy as Pie.  This is a great resource if you are just starting out and need some basic profitable pricing STAT.  It’s not for you if you want to create a la carte pricing menus with purchasing bonuses, but it is for you if you want to great some uncomplicated simple collections.  This is perfect for those of you in your first year or so of business and will pay for itself after one sale with your new profitable pricing.  Good news for you is that Alicia is having her semi-annual 50% off sale Thursday and Friday, November 8 and 9th.  That’s RIGHT NOW and a savings of $174.50!