The best time to hold your annual strategy retreat is at the beginning of your studio’s slow season. For us, that is November. During the crazy summer season, there are so many marketing projects we want to get to, things that are put off until the winter, also known as the slow season in wedding photography.
The strategy retreat is a period of reflection for our business and future planning. We review what we have accomplished during the past business year, and where we have struggled. We address those struggles and strategize how to improve those areas. If you have staff on board, getting their input and buy-in to this process can be very rewarding for the team.
The retreat started out as simply an entire day off site. It has grown over the years to be much more than that. Now we typically take 2-3 days, allocating time to plan for marketing, studio promotions, goals, and bring improvements to areas that are not as effective. Prior to the retreat, we get our studio budget finalized for the coming year.
The strategy session has been great because we really take the time to review which marketing strategies have been effective and which ones haven’t. We explore new strategies that might work for us. We choose the areas where we are most challenged and discuss how we want to approach these areas in the coming year.
Overall, it’s a really wonderful gift you can give your business. All year long, when we are caught up in the day to day-the “fires” that need to be put out, the urgent client needs, albums that we are embarrassingly past due on, we just don’t have the time to reflect. We just keep moving forward. Sometimes there is a better way. If only you’d pause for a moment, consider, reflect, research you could implement a solution, a better way of doing things.
You work hard to treat your clients well, why not take the time and do the same thing for your business? Invest the time in your studio. Be the CEO of your photography business and grow it to the next level.
If you are interested in an annual strategy retreat for your business, here are some tips to get you started:
There are a couple of things you can do to maximize your retreat. Getting the studio budget up to date is key. You can’t look at the financial results of your business if you do not have an accurate budget to work with. You need to know which areas you overspent (consider why) which areas you’ll need to invest in more, and what marketing campaigns were successful (financially).
It’s also a good idea to take an hour or so prior to the retreat and start drafting a list of ideas you have. Look at your business struggles, things you know you’d like to accomplish next year, marketing you want to implement and so forth. Just start the process. Once you have those creative juices flowing, you’ll be surprised to find that new ideas trickle in every so often (or in the middle of the night). Once the day comes, you’ll have a head start, but most importantly, your mind will have been thinking about these issues in the back of your mind, laying the ground work for you.
Depending on your business & if it is just you or a team, you might want to consider a hotel lounge, a day spa, even a park. I have had successful retreats in all these locations. You’ll want to pick a place that is quiet, peaceful and where you can be left alone for hours at a time. Some place very tranquil. This is key because you need to think, to reflect. That can be in a hot tub, at an afternoon tea room, a café, in a quiet park, and even in a nice hotel lobby where you can sip a leisurely drink. What’s most important is your ability to reflect.
Getting your staff involved in the retreat is a great idea for a number of reasons. First, they will have insight into some of the challenges in dealing with clients, production bottlenecks, or perhaps issues that are personal challenges for them. This is a great opportunity to discuss training needs and look at areas of their work that need to be addressed.
Another great benefit to involving staff is that it gives you an opportunity to recognize their efforts, improvements they have implemented in the production workflow, new customer service initiatives and so forth.
A final benefit to consider is the buy-in you’ll get from staff by including them in the process and the future direction of the business. By allowing them an opportunity to submit ideas and be heard, they will feel valued and therefore more invested in the solutions.
Since there are going to be some topics you’ll want to discuss only with your Executive Team (typically known as the spouse) you’ll want to break up the session into 2 parts. What if it’s just you? No problem, the process is still the same. Get away from the office and the day to day needs to develop your strategy for the coming year.
Topics to Consider
What do you want to achieve from your retreat? An improved production workflow? More bookings? Fewer hours at the computer? Stronger vendor relationships? Consider what your main goals are for the following year. The other area to really consider is pain points. What is not working in your business? Where are the bottlenecks? What area of your business are you struggling with? Here are some examples:
- Disorganized client workflow, sense of not knowing what the next task is.
- Album production bottlenecks each fall as clients try to get their album orders in time for Christmas, we are working long hours trying to complete print orders and album orders during the holidays instead of being with our family.
- Not making enough income.
- Create or implement a task management system.
- Get album workflow under control and more consistently spread out over the year.
- Increase revenue stream (ideas to consider: book more weddings, develop boudoir business, increase rates, etc.)
- Research, select and implement a new studio management software solution
- Implement an annual holiday cutoff date for client album & print orders.
- Develop marketing campaign for boudoir sessions & attend more wedding networking events
It’s natural to get so caught up in the daily running of your studio, that you often miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. Quite frankly, it’s unavoidable when you are running a small business, as you need to wear many hats (often at the same time). However, if you want to grow your photography business to new heights, don’t miss out on this opportunity to make meaningful changes to your business. When will you schedule your retreat? What will you address?