The following article is a guest post by Philip Lucas of Lucasphoto Limited

On Thursday of WPPI 2011, the convention was definitely winding down, the halls were emptying, the trade show was packing up and most of the buzz of the week had dissipated to a low murmer. Most WPPI attendees had already made for the exits and skipped the late show from Jerry and Sondra, but it was one of the more insightful and honest of the entire week. Mark Halper spoke for an hour as a guest speaker and really got down to brass tacks. I’ll cover Mark’s presentation in a separate piece as it was powerful enough to stand on it’s own.

Jerry and Sondra started the class with the ground running and covered a week’s worth of topics in a two-hour span. The class and also their consulting business centered around giving photographers tips on business strategies that would help them take their inspiration and put it into practical application to help them grow. Their approach is one of professional efficiency – polite but realisitic in what works and what doesn’t in the world of business. Here are their 15 tips for helping your business grow:

1. Find and hone your unique voice – The major separator of you from your competition is your artistic voice. If you spend all of your time trying to emulate others, you’ll get lost in their wake. Spend that time instead finding out and perfecting your vision and how to encompass your clients in that vision.

2. Act fast – ideas are the fertile soil for your artistic vision. Focus on the speed of implementation; quickly take action on your ideas. Ideas that are not acted upon end up on the “island of lost ideas  and soon fade into regrets.

3. Establish measurable objectives – Start with the end in mind and calendar your milestones. Where do you see yourself at the end of the year? What is your stratetgy for getting there? What resources will you need? How will you gauge if you’re going to meet your goals? Make a plan and actively achieve it.

4. Involve clients in your artistic evolution – Clients are the reason for your business so make them an integral part of your inspiration. Take the time to get to know them on a personal level. Find out why their wedding is going to be different than every other wedding. What makes them special and how can you incorprate that into your artwork?

5. Invite clients to work with you, don’t sell them – In something as personal as a portrait, no one wants to feel like they’ve been “sold . They should feel proud that they have invested their time and energy working with you artistically, not like they had been sold to. Focus on making a timeless portrait and positive experience with your clients, not a sale.

6. Treat your clients like gold – Your clients are the key to your financial success, so why not treat them that way? Spend the extra time to send them personal hand-written thank you or birthday notes. Send them an unexpected surprise. Communicate with clients often to maintain close relationships.

7. Make friends in your community – The best advertising is by word of mouth; personal indorsements of your business by someone else. One of the best ways to get referrals is through other related businesses in your community. Hold special VIP events where you can invite other businesses as well as your clients. Seek out other businesses that you can offer services to. Give back to your community by volunteering your services. Strive to be THE go-to photographer that people think of because you’ve shown your business is active and a contributing part of the community.

8. Stay inspired and don’t stagnate – The number one factor in success is enthusiasm. Great ideas and excellent skills go unused without the drive to put them to work. Develop a personal project that inspires you to be creative. Think about what you would shoot if you were independently wealthy. Use that inspiration to keep you sharp and inspired in your day-to-day business projects.

9. Tell your clients what you want them to do – So many business people confuse their clients into not purchasing items by being unclear in their expecations. Are you disappointed that everyone only chooses the minimum package? Are you clearly educating your clients to the benefits of add-ons? Are you setting a clear expectation from the start with your client on what the “normal  client would pay for a particlar session and prints? Helping the client to understand your expectations of the experiencewill greatly relieve their stress and also yours when it comes to making the purchases.

10. Learn one new techniqe each week – Mark on the calendar what new skill you will learn each week. Make it something specific and clear that you can learn and effectively implement within a week. Do you want to learn more about dramatic lighting? More about Lightroom presets? More about outdoor daylight shooting with off-camera flash? Choose topics that will help your business and will help you stay inspired. Don’t choose topics that are too large to master within a week – don’t try to learn everything about Photoshop or everything about lighting in a week.

11. Schedule an event or exhibition within the next 60 days – A deadline is a great motivator. If you know that you will need to have 20 display quality prints in the next 60 days to hang and show, you will find ways to get the business you need to make that happen.

12. Build your team – So much of someone’s success depends on who they surround themselves with. Find mentors that will inspire you to their level. Find positive peers to discuss your ideas with and help maintain your inspiration and drive. Find honest critique in people you trust to give you constructive and purposeful feedback on your direction and work. Find people to help you with the tasks that you are not skilled at so that you don’t get bogged down and frustrated.

13. Master your business tools – Become an expert in “your  business. Know your pricelist by heart. If you can’t tell your costomers what you charge for a service simplify your price list. Keep clear and manageable records so you can understand how your business is doing in an instant. Know your key porformance indicators and how they track from month to month.

14. Master your skillset and equipment – Become a ninja with your gear. Be able to snap the shutter in a fleeting moment instead of fidgeting with the dials to find how to increase your ISO. Know that in a moment you’ll need to set your flash and bounce it off the far back right wall to get the perfect soft lighting of the bride kissing her father for the last time as his little girl. Know that on an outdoor shoot with winds above five mph you have to have the 30 pound sanbags for your lightstands. Shoot in less than perfect conditions for fun so you can do it perfectly when it counts.

15. Stay motivated – Plan for successes and failures. If you’re not failing you’re not trying hard enough. When you have successes celebrate them by making a rewards list of things you are going to do for yourself when you have a win. When things don’t go well make sure you have an objective debrief of what happened so you can succeed next time. Plan for recharge time. Plan time for yourself and your family to enjoy your successes!