How I Avoided Making a Big Mistake (and Built a Successful Career Instead)

During college, I remember working every weekend with my dad while my friends were partying their heads off. Needless to say, my social life was pretty much non-existent. And despite missing out on my fair share of keggers over the years, I don’t resent my parents for it; they covered what they could and I was responsible for the rest. By working with my dad on the weekends to supplement my $7/hr gig at Banana Republic (dolla dolla bills, ya’ll), I got to see my folks once a week, share a meal with them, and get paid at the same time. It seemed like a pretty fair deal to me.

So every Saturday night, my shift would start at 9pm and end around 2am. My primary responsibility was driving my dad to 10-15 of his largest clients in/around Washington DC. My secondary responsibility? Making sure we didn’t get robbed.

You see, my dad wasn’t dropping in on his clients just to say “hi”. He was the “accounts receivable guy” – the guy nobody ever wanted to see. And like clockwork, my dad would show up to their place of business every Saturday night to collect (these businesses were all “cash-only”). And while the business owners would occasionally keep us waiting (sometimes for hours on end), my dad’s patience and charm would usually win the night, and we would quickly be on our way to our next stop to repeat this Dog & Pony Show all over again.

Then one evening, I remember catching a glimpse of one of the invoices which stated a total balance of $20, and I remember becoming slightly annoyed with my dad.

“We drove 30 minutes out here to collect $20? That’s crazy! You’re crazy!”

What he said next would leave a lasting impact on me and how I would approach running a business for the rest of my life:

“Son, a small client isn’t a bad client. Small clients deserve just as much attention as the big ones. You have to remember: big clients were once small clients too. Besides…are YOU going to give ME $20?”

I wasn’t. (starving college student, remember?)

Admittedly, he was absolutely right. A business owner can’t overlook a client simply because they’re working with a lower budget. In the end, everyone deserves the same level of service, regardless of how much they’re able to pay. If you’re hungry for business, a good business owner will find a way to make it work. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s simply good business. I mean…we all remember that famous scene from Pretty Woman, right?

9 years ago, I received a referral from a photographer friend: it was a for a kid’s birthday party that was taking place over 2 hours from me (and probably over 5 hours for my friend). The budget was $200 but I took the job without hesitation. Why?

  1. I was free that weekend.
  2. I was earnestly growing a photography business.
  3. In a worst case scenario, I was going to break even that day.
  4. I went in with the unequivocal notion that “small clients can be good clients too”.

And you know what?

  • From that kid’s birthday party alone, I grossed over $5000 in family sessions in the following two months.
  • To date, our two photography brands have collectively grossed multiple six-figures in wedding work through referrals we can definitively trace back to this singular event in time.

So in the end, not too bad for a $200 gig, right?

These days, I don’t shoot very many birthday parties, nor non-wedding work for that matter.  Between my wedding work and my family, I simply no longer have the time or the energy: my plates are full and my cups have figuratively runneth over (for which my family and I are enormously grateful).

But for those entrepreneurs who are struggling, hungry and looking for work, I know these $200 gigs are still out there, just waiting to be scooped up. I literally see them online everyday. But instead of being taken seriously, I’m saddened and disappointed to watch these inquiries getting ridiculed and dismissed, never to be seen again: these so called “entrepreneurs” are sitting on gold mines, and they don’t even know it!

“Opportunity is missed by people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison

So let’s pretend for a moment that you work at a fashion retailer (ie. Banana Republic, just because). If you encounter a customer who can’t afford the suit, you sell them the shirt. If they can’t afford the shirt, you sell them a tie. And if they can’t afford the tie, you sell them some socks (because let’s be real…everyone’s got $10 and everyone could use an extra pair of socks). Because if they’re in your store already (or inquired through email/dm/whatever), this means they already liked what they saw. Your job is to make sure they don’t leave empty handed!

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: never dismiss or underestimate clients with the smaller budgets. You’ll never know what may come out of it. In a worst case scenario, you made a little less money than you expected AND you gained a super appreciative client (who will shout your name from the rooftops). This is not to say that you should ever discount your goods or services in order to gain a client. I’m definitely not saying that. But if you’re a business owner who’s hungry for business, you will figure out a way to make it work, no matter what. As for how we made it work for us, we created an associate brand to help us cover more price points and market share. So in the end, everybody wins, which is my favorite kind of scenario!

TL;DR: If you are a business owner struggling to find new clients or trying to grow an existing business, servicing small clients with small budgets is not only a good thing to do, but also the right thing to do!

#benlauphoto #momentsovermountains #loveislove

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