How I Did It - Molly Purvines

Molly Purvines finds balance and confidence through better business management and client interaction.

By Jeff Kent

Molly Purvines of McDonough, Ga., started her home-based portrait business, Purvines Photography, in October 2005. She wanted her child and family portrait studio to be a healthy source of income for her family. Realizing she needed business knowledge, Purvines took classes and read books to educate herself on small business management.

By the end of 2006, the fledging business had yet to click into gear. Clients loved Purvine’s images, but sales didn’t reflect it. As the business sputtered, she worked long hours to keep the enterprise afloat.

Then, at Imaging USA 2007 in San Antonio, Purvines spoke with PPA Studio Management Services (SMS) mentor Ann K. Monteith, M.Photog.Cr.Hon.M.Photog., CPP, ABI, API, A-ASP, Hon.ASP, and asked for advice on business planning. Purvines had already planned to attend Monteith’s Guerilla Management seminar in May, but she helped immediately. Monteith peppered her with questions, and concluded from the answers that Purvine’s sales had to double if the business was going to make it.

On Monteith’s recommendation, Purvines revised her sales sessions to include image projection, and made substantial price increases. The impact was immediate. By the time she arrived at Monteith’s workshop in May, her sales were ahead of projections for the period. By year’s end, Purvines had more than doubled her gross sales over the year before. An improvement, but the business was still not generating that healthy income.

That’s when Purvines called SMS. “I’d increased my sales and business was improving, but I didn’t know where to go from there,” she says. “How do I keep growing? How do I manage the next steps? The biggest thing we had to tackle was forecasting my business flow from year to year. Working with SMS helped me understand time management and the realities of session numbers and business volume.”

In addition to the SMS accountants, Purvines got consultation from Julia Woods,M.Photog.Cr., photographer and SMS mentor. “She taught me to not just sell my pictures but to sell what I do as artwork,” says Purvines. “Sales became a much more in-depth process that begins with the initial phone call and extends through the sales projection session.”

With those revisions and the 2007 price increases, Purvines’ per-session sales average is up by 50 percent in the last year. She’s also managed to slightly increase her session bookings in the last two years. The costmanagement techniques she got from SMS helped Purvines keep her cost of sales impressively low: 23 percent in 2007; 26 percent in 2008; 21 percent in 2009. As is typical when a photographer increases prices and manages costs effectively, Purvines saw a happy improvement on the bottom-line profit (net profit + owner’s compensation): 32 percent in 2007; 34 percent in 2008; and a stellar 43 percent in 2009.

Making more money and keeping more of what she made encouraged Purvines to build her dream studio in the basement of the new home she and her husband bought last February. With her newfound understanding of the numbers, Purvines knew they could afford it. Her high profit margin helped her fund the total renovation of the house’s 1,800-square-foot walkout basement. Her new studio includes a camera room, an office, a gallery and a lobby—the entire project was paid for without taking on debt.

Now, Purvines is feeling a stronger sense of confidence in her business management skills. “I know from the initial consultations with my clients how the process will end,” she says. “It’s not a surprise anymore. I know if the photography is important to them or not. Understanding what I need to do to serve each client from the beginning gives me the confidence and freedom to do what I want artistically.”

Purvines can also forecast more accurately and manage her time more effectively. “Before, I was always worried I should be working more,” she says. “Now I know where I stand in my projections, and I can tell how my business is doing at any given time. That allows me to take a day off or schedule myself
away from the studio to take a class, and I don’t have to worry about my business falling apart. That balance has been critical. It helps me be a better photographer and a more relaxed person.”

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