Sometimes a simple conversation can make all of the difference: a 1:1 coaching session, a single sales call or a ‘trivial’ chat over a coffee. Often it’s the most simple actions that make for the biggest turnarounds in your business and your life.
This is why, at Entrepreneurs Network HQ, we are always trying to keep the conversation going. Be that with our regular emails, our One Day Spectaculars and this very newsletter you’re holding in your hands. We are trying to keep the juices flowing and our community talking. After all, you never know where it might lead.
For those of you who attended our One Day Spectacular in London at the end of April (you’ll find the full write up elsewhere in this newsletter) you may well recognise the face in this article.
Meet Carmel Jane, a photographer who has caught our attention not just because of her sterling work (although that is a factor – hence why she was taking free headshots of the guests at the ODS!) but because of her impressive ability to take a conversation, and use it to turn her entire business around.
Carmel is, as you may have guessed, a photographer. A hugely talented photographer.
In fact, you can see dozens of examples of her work on the front cover of this magazine!
But talent – even the highly refined variety – is only half your arsenal when running a business.
As a naturally artistic profession, professional photography comes with an unusually high level of business-related challenges. And as a director of a now successful photographic company, Carmel knows this better than most.
New Zealand born Carmel was a social/hobbyist photographer for 11 years before deciding to run a photography company on the side. Five years later, and this company is now the largest dance school photography business in the South East – a very specific, and very fruitful niche. This has since branched into the schools market and other related niches – but it’s dance school specialism that has allowed these other, more broad photographic specialism to flourish.
But it wasn’t all straightforward – when Carmel first decided to broaden her company’s horizons into the schools market she struggled with sales. This was something she hadn’t encountered before, as when speaking to dance schools you typically have a conversation with a decision maker thereand-then. However, with schools, nailing down a decision maker (i.e. a Head Teacher) is fraught with opposition from various gatekeepers – from receptionists to PAs and onwards.
And that’s where the singleconversation theory comes in: as an EN member, Carmel had a one-to-one with our business coach with the most: Ed. Ed used his incredible sales acumen to make a single recommendation to Carmel:
“stop selling and start offering free headshots to the school leadership teams!”
Ed is a big fan of Carmel’s work, and saw her unique eye (and highly personal touch) to be the only sales tool her business needed. All she had to do was to get her very different (and very impressive) work in front of the right people – have a simple conversation – and the sale would make itself.
The school’s senior team would see what she could do – and want the same for the rest of the staff and, of course, the pupils. Simples.
And needless to say, Ed was right.
Taking free pictures of the Head Teachers and their senior teams resulted in plenty of jobs with schools. It was a strong tactic, with one school going so far as to change their photographer of 20 years to get her in.
Keeping up this momentum wasn’t easy, however. She still had to get into the schools in the first place, which meant sales calls still had to be made. Admittedly they were far easier calls to make with free no-obligation services than they were with hard sales – but you’d be surprised how much of a challenge imparting even a free gift is.
The business encountered some turbulence when she was forced to let her salesperson go – but this was quickly remedied by a new hire who has gone on to impress and bring in a new wave of mainstream school business ready for the new school year in September.
Growth, however, doesn’t come without first taking a few calculated financial risks. With a nudge from Ed Pearson, Carmel also bought a stand at an exhibition: The Academy Show, which took place at the end of April. While the stand itself has been an expense, it put Carmel in front of over 4,000 decision makers in the academic field… and she only needed one sale to break even. With the correct approach that investment will very easily turn a very healthy profit.
Carmel’s approach to all things is incredibly endearing. She has a small team of six and only employs women in a bid to make her subjects as comfortable and as confident as possible, truly reveling in her abilities to make the camera-shy come out of their shells – kids and adults alike. Her business has well and truly emerged from its shell too, and looks set to dominate the school niche as it has done the dance-school niche for the last five years.
Talent is hugely important, of course, but Carmel has proven that a tight niche, a clever ‘in’ and the willingness to give up some time (and even some money) in exchange for the possibility of a new client can go a very, very long way.
Remember: a single conversation with the right person can truly be the difference that makes the difference.
You just have to get in front of them first.