I started my photography business in the Spring 0f 2015, after learning how to take pictures of my daughter on a used Canon Rebel camera I borrowed from my parents two years prior. I’ll never forget the moment I made the decision to just take the plunge and go for it. My husband and I had just spent the weekend out of state at a dog trial for his new hobby of training and running our black lab in hunt tests. He worked SO hard and poured all of his energy into our dog and this new interest of his. He had a community of friends who shared this love of dogs and hunting, and to be honest, I was a bit jealous. I wanted something similar for myself. And I told him as much on my way home.
I knew I was growing to love photography, but it was also a solo hobby (and expensive!) My husband (who is a very matter of fact person), simply responded “well start a business then.” What? A Business? Taking people’s pictures? No way. I’m too shy. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m so awkward and introverted, how could I make people comfortable in front of the camera? It’s too expensive. I won’t make any money. I’ll fail. The list of excuses was long my friends, but my husband wasn’t having it. He reminded me that I could do anything in my own way, I just had to start. And the only way I was going to work around my fears was by facing them. With his honest encouragement, I came home and started a business. Two short years later after a lot of failures, growth, successes, and pivots I started working from home as a full time Photo Editor for Wedding Photographers.
As I look back on that journey from there to here, and as I start to revisit the Portrait Photography side of my business I find myself reflecting on the mistakes I made as a photographer. Rather than keeping them to myself I thought I would share them with you, and encourage you to learn from making similar mistakes of your own!
Comparison is a green eyed monster that raises its ugly head in almost every creative business. I wish I had a solution to avoid this trap completely. Unfortunately, I don’t and I still find myself falling victim to it on occasion. However, when I was a photographer, I was deep in the comparison game. Looking back I know that it crippled my creativity and growth in my own photography journey. Falling into comparison every now and then is almost unavoidable, but spending your time constantly comparing yourself to others, that’s a dangerous road. My best advice to avoid this mistake is to unfollow your fellow photographers on all social media channels. Yep, even your friends (actually, especially your friends.) You are going to be better than other photographers, and there are other photographers who will be better than you. None of that matters. What matters is the joy that your business, creativity and photos brings to you and your clients, that’s it.
I invested early on in my business and it served me so well. However, there are a few things I wish I had done differently with my education. If I could do it over again, I would have spent more time researching educators and courses prior to investing. When you learn from one photographer, you typically learn their style and their way of doing business. That’s not wrong, but I think that having a variety of educational experiences allows you to take bits and pieces of what you want from each educator and apply it to your own work and business. Second, as online courses have grown, so has the opportunity to learn directly from your living room. Perfect for parents and those still working a full-time job! Unfortunately, it also hinders the commitment to hands-on learning. I wish I had taken advantage of more in-person workshops, conferences, and shoots in the beginning. Finally, never underestimate the value of a mentor. As a working mom, I didn’t think I had time to spend with a mentor. I simply wanted to learn one or two things, then go book my own sessions and apply them. I regret not investing more time into a relationship with a local, experienced photographer who could have helped me avoid countless mistakes along the way.
As a new business owner, creating systems in my day was not something that came naturally to me. I knew early on that staying organized was important, but I also convinced myself that it wasn’t a priority. You know, if I got a little behind on keeping up with contracts, bookkeeping, and backing up files, no biggie right? I could always catch up. Oh Jennifer, wrong, so very wrong. As my business started to grow quickly, so did my stress level as I scrambled to stay caught up on all the things. I failed to implement strong systems in the beginning, and continually felt as if I was moving two steps forward and three steps back. If you want to change the future of your business, make this your top priority today. I truly believe that it is the most important aspect of your business. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your images are, how well educated you are, and how much money your client spends on prints and products. If you don’t have systems in place to handle all of these different details of your business, then you have a weak foundation and things will crumble eventually. An organized business will save you time, energy, and reduce your stress. In the long run, it allows you to focus on your strengths, improve your client experience, and ultimately make more money.
I had a two year old and was still working part-time when I started my photography business. I know there are so may new photographers that can relate. When you feel as if you just have enough time to book the session, take the pictures, edit and deliver them, it makes it difficult to tackle the additional task of communicating well with clients. There were definitely days when I felt like I was doing the bare minimum in terms of communication, and had I known then what I know now I would have simplified this process for myself! The best way to streamline communication is to address questions and problems before they arise, create response templates, and educate clients from the beginning of the process to the end. Spending a little extra time up-front creating resources for clients and addressing communication needs will eliminate back and forth emails, duplicate questions and concerns, and help to reduce any problems or complaints.
There’s nothing wrong with having high expectations for yourself as a photographer and business owner, but they should also be realistic. Looking back, I find that slow and steady is the best way to grow any business. Why? Because it allows you to learn, process, implement and evaluate. I started taking natural light, lifestyle portraits in the Spring of 2015, and was already booking weddings by the following year. I was so proud of myself for making this leap in my business so quickly. What I failed to realize was that I was poorly prepared to start shooting solo weddings and handle this huge influx of business. I still had so much to learn as a photographer and business owner. The only reason that I felt like I was constantly failing, was because my expectations for myself were largely out of reach of my skills and abilities. By failing myself and my own expectations, I was also failing my clients. Not a great feeling. Manage your expectations with a realistic growth plan that allows room for mistakes. We learn when we step outside of our boundaries, but we fail when we refuse to humble ourselves and acknowledge our weaknesses.
As I look back on my journey as a photographer and business owner, I am so proud of all that I’ve accomplished. Of course, the financial successes and the growth in my skills are an obvious win. But what humbles me the most, is how I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, acknowledged the success of others without diminishing my own light, approached clients with compassion and kindness and learned to how step up and out of my mistakes. You will make mistakes as a photographer. You will have moments that make you question if this is the right journey for you. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But the only way to give yourself a real chance at making this work is by taking it one step, and one day at a time. It’s OK to grow slow and enjoy the process. There is no finish line after all, and the journey is what makes it all worth it.