Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thinking Big versus Having a Big Image

Was listening to Bloomberg radio yesterday and caught Barbara Corcoran on with Vonnie Quinn and Kathleen Hays.

Lots of the interview was very interesting but no more than the part where Barbara says (around the 6:00 mark),

"Thinking big, lemme tell you, is so overrated. You know what I value most of all? Thinking in
detail. Are you going to have the follow through? Are you going to nail down the price? Are you going to negotiate that contract to the finest point that you can? Are you going to spend the time hiring the right people? There's a million things [to] building a business. The idea of thinking big, I don't believe in that. I don't believe in a big business plan that's all ironed out cuz the truth in the end is you're reacting to the reality around you. But I do believe in a big image... When I started my Corcoran [Report] business from day one I saw myself like the pope kind of in a beautiful pink or white gown, go figure why, and everybody lining up to kiss my ring. I just saw myself as the queen of New York real estate. And you wanna know [something]? Having a big image especially if you're visual can get you a lot farther for a lot of people than having a rock solid business plan which doesn't make any sense six months after it's issued."

I have a lot of respect for Barbara since my wife and I watch her on Shark Tank (reality TV show produced by Mark Burnett). She's not only a self-made businesswoman but she also legitimately cares about people. Her deals on Shark Tank reflect that she's not underhanded like Cuban (Mark) or Kevin (O'Leary). She's down-to-earth and honest. She and Robert (Herjavec) are my favorites although Kevin and Mark are very entertaining to watch.

But thinking big... like so many new-age concepts (like Barack Obama), get people so caught up in the hype that they forget that execution is necessary to achieve their goals. It's why ideas themselves are worthless. You can't sell an idea in its purest form. Look at how many wannabe entrepreneurs show up on Shark Tank with unproven ideas only to be shot down by ALL the sharks. The most common question being, "How much money have you made so far?" And if you haven't gotten any sales, how can you justify the company's equity?

The answer is you can't. At least not to the point where someone is going to actually pay you for your idea/company. Sure you can argue that the numbers are based on future growth blah blah blah. But considering that you don't even have current growth, how can you convince someone of future growth?

And while past performance does not guarantee future results, it's still the best indicator of future results. That's why current sales matter.

But I don't need to harp on the nitty gritty. I've written more than once that execution trumps everything else at the end of the day. Sure you need concept/vision. More people get paid to execute than to drum up fancy ideas (although the "idea-people" generally make more if they can get paid). And there's no magic pill/lantern to get what you want. Otherwise, I would have had a pony yesterday.

Instead let me focus on where Barbara hits her second-home run. Having a big image. As photographers, it's not just the actual imagery we create but also the clout and the reputation that determines our success/failure in photography. You can call it "branding" and "marketing" but the manipulation of perception is critical to your success. Especially in this business where as a photographer you are the asset. That means your persona is constantly being evaluated. People decide whether they want to work with you often based upon what you (and your company) represent (as an idea) and not necessarily who you really are. And as Barbara points out this is more important than having a 3-5-10 year business plan that will be irrelevant faster than you can say "What... the... f-???"

What does this really mean for photographers? Focus on your brand. Build value into it. Represent something. Anything. But more important than anything else, listen to your customers and let them tell you what they think you represent. Far too often you think you're doing A when your customers think you're doing B. What you think isn't nearly as important as what your customers think. Remember, their perception of you dictates your reality. So listen. Look at yourself from their perspective. Not bridging that disconnect could mean missing out on entire business segments and opportunities.

Respond to your market. Far too often photographers make decisions based upon assumptions that simply aren't true. You know how often I hear "I want to make my money from modeling agencies paying me to shoot their models"? Enough to know that photographers don't know squat about the ins and outs of the modeling agencies. And enough to know that they're operating off of a flawed business model. You have to respond to changing environmental conditions constantly. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Do your homework. And execute. Then do some more homework and execute some more. Evaluate daily. Keep your finger on the pulse and don't lose focus. Don't lose sight of the fact that the industry will survive just fine without you. That you are inconsequential. But make yourself, consequential. Ditch the big picture thinking. Focus on the details and build yourself a brand!

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