Mentoring ~ is it for you?

Apr 26, 2009 | Business | 11 comments

All through my professional career I have been inspired by other photographers and accepted guidance on creative and business direction from other professionals outside of photography. It is very rare that a talented creative is also a talented entrepreneur or business leader. Some people say that the two don’t mix and I am inclined to believe them. That is not to say that great photographers can’t make a lot of money, of course they can, but it takes the business brains as well as creative talent to enable that to happen.

In the late 90’s I wanted more profit from my photography and I enrolled on a training programme from CPT. Contemporary Photographic Training was run by Annabel Williams and Catherine Connor. Annabel, like me, is a flamboyant, confident, artistic photographer with the knack of making it all look easy. Catherine on the other hand is a business guru with a thorough understanding of retail. Catherine was the missing ingredient from my business at that time and with her help, Julie and I created a very successful career in wedding photography. We put together a formula with a fabulous profit margin and all we needed to do was duplicate it 350 times :) Very little changed in our product offering over the 9 years or so that we shot weddings. It didn’t need too. Years of sustained growth in the economy provided us with a constant supply of city bankers, stockbrokers, and lawyers to be our clients.

Throughout the wedding years we needed to monitor the finances very carefully. We also had to keep efficiency at its peak and keep our costs to a minimum. We pulled out of all competitions, kept our heads down and got on with exceeding our clients expectations. Catherine had taught us not to aim to please other photographers or stoke our ego but to put customers first. We delivered a consistently high quality product in quantity, over a sustained period of time.

By year seven of shooting weddings we had to plan an exit strategy (for personal reasons) and Gregory Haddock came into our lives. Gregory is a top business coach. Like Catherine, he is an inspiration and has very good people skills. Julie, Gregory and I immediately got to work developing both a portrait business and a training business in parallel. I learned a lot about life in the process and the handover was not without its moments. Going from one very profitable business to another takes hard work and gritty determination. We tested and measured everything. I became an expert in using Excel and for a while spreadsheets ruled our business life. We had targets, 90 day plans, cash flow forecasts, product price calculators, project analysis reports and so on. This was absolutely necessary as I usually had my head in the clouds. I also had an air of optimism and a penchant for expensive kit that had to be curbed. Gregory understood our operation inside out and gave our life and business a new direction. He identified the route to the loot, and established a working pattern to give us every evening and weekend off.

Top advice comes at a price and it takes a serious amount of action on the part of the recipient for a good return on investment to happen. Spending an inspiring day with a mentor can leave you with ideas buzzing around your head. You need to act fast (within 24 hours if possible) to formulate a plan to implement the ideas and strategies generated.

Here are a few truths about business coaching:

The givers of the advice don’t do the work, the receivers do.
The more the advice costs the more drive the recipient has to act upon it.
The price of the advice is no guarantee of its value.
Not all business strategies work for all people.

A few dos and don’ts:

Do seek advice and guidance rather than bury your head in the sand.
Don’t employ a business consultant who is not successful in their own business.
Don’t employ a consultant if you don’t have the determination, the drive and the time needed to succeed.
If your life is well balanced, the mortgage is paid off, you have plenty of family time, great holidays and true happiness, you don’t need help either. Enjoy it.

At my last meeting with Gregory, we discussed the state of our industry as a whole and I asked him if he would consider delivering a powerful session of valuable advice and expertise to a room full of photographers. I told him we needed to get the price point below £100 including a good ‘Lovegrove quality’ lunch and he said okay. So we booked a hotel, near Heathrow, arranged the lunches, planned the event and now it’s up to you. This guy is a genius, like no other I’ve come across and will leave an impression on you and your business forever. Click here for more information.


  1. Martin Hill

    It’s amazing that the tools and skills that I learnt on the 1st Evolve course are really now coming home to roost and really helping me during a very exciting but nervous time. We are about to take on a much larger studio set up and with the business skills I’ve gained and the continued support from Damien & Julie, I feel confident that I am making the right decision.
    The prophotonut blog is a great resource and very unique in the training world. I’ve found myself reading every part of the business section, just to refresh the old grey matter.
    Thanks guys. xx

    • damien

      Hi Martin,

      You are a star, just keep at it, stay focused on the important things, enjoy your photography and enjoy life.

      Cheers, Damien.

  2. damien

    Hi Karl,

    I’m back. You are right, there may not be an Evolve 3. My diary is currently full of 1:1 business consultations that target business needs in a truly bespoke way that I wonder about the value balance between group training with some dedicated time versus a series of 1:1 business sessions combined with any practical training required. The group element from Evolve 1 has been tremendous and the Evolve 2 group are beginning to really work together. It is difficult though to put a value on the extra curricular group support. All I want to do is deliver the help and business strategies my delegates need. In return they have to put in the effort to ‘Make it Happen’.

    Give me a ring to discuss your needs further and lets see how we can work together to make your business achieve the success you desire.



  3. KarlB

    I think I need some of this business training damien, but I hear your evolve 3 may not happen? I will call you on your return.


  4. Graham

    Hi Damien,

    great insight delivered to the point as usual. I am currently on a well respected training course you may have heard of and I think your points on what to expect from mentoring and who does the work could do with being spelt out loud and clear.

    Keep up the fantastic work.

  5. Stuart

    Thanks for the response as always.

  6. damien

    Hi David,

    Yes there are a lot of training companies out there. When I started, training was provided by companies and organisations like the Guild of Wedding Photographers. They had literally thousands of photographers buying into a training manual that taught photography by numbers. It did the job that was needed at the time and the manual readers became talented technicians. It was not for me however and I wanted to shoot things my way.

    Nowadays photographers have a choice about where to get trained. See my article on this matter here :)

    The Evolve programme is a bespoke programme based on individual studios who have unique products to take to market. Each studio has a different marketing mix of strategies that are customised to utilise their strengths and opportunities. Yes, we have a double day workshop on sales and marketing but the main support is given on a 1:1 basis.

    I do want to commit elements of my business training to DVD soon as I know it will be very successful as a product and a marketing tool to drive more customers to my 1:1 and Evolve training. In the same way that my other DVDs have sold well and created demand for my workshops.

    For now, we are running a major one off business event in June that will be recorded on video to form part of a bigger DVD type project in due course. Our business spectacular event in June is going to be so feature packed and information rich it is our flagship business product for this year.

    I hope this helps. Damien

  7. damien

    Hi Stuart,

    I learned my trade while I was a cameraman and lighting director at the BBC. 12 years of shooting people in all situations and with fantastic resources gave me the shooting experience I needed. When I left the BBC I continued to shoot my ‘video style’ in stills. I then embarked on seeing every top photographer I could to glean ideas and develop my picture making techniques.

    I spent several days with Martin Parr, and several more with Andy Earl. I went to seminars and workshop events by all the top photographers I could get access too from Gordon McGowan to Yervant.

    My mother was and still is an art teacher and I owe a lot of my understanding about picture composition and tonal rendition to her.

    In 2000, Julie and I did the bespoke training at CPT (£8000 ish) and although we did it primarily for the business training, we were fortunate to be shooting alongside some of the UK’s finest photographers during the practical sessions. Jo DeBanzie, Tamara Peel, and James Bignell to name but a few.

    I’ve never stopped learning from other photographers and I’ve yet to take my best pictures.


  8. David Lowerson

    Hi Damien,

    Just to add to Stuart’s comments, do you feel the market has now be saturated with training companies trying to feed off tomorrow’s professionals?

    Also, would you ever do a DVD on marketing, sales etc that you have in place with Evolve Programme?


  9. Stuart

    Damien did you have any photography training as well or was it more business based? I mean a training course like you provide now, did you attend something like that?


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