I started my photography business a decade ago. For the past 10 years, I've had ups and downs, made poor decisions, and endured the pain of negativity. And yet each year I show up ready and willing to grow my business because I love it. I love my clients. I love the stress of the wedding day. I love the accomplishment of sharing their images. As I begin a new season, I'm reflecting on how good the past 10 years have been…but also offering advice for new photographers.
Here’s what I wish someone told me when I first started my photography business…
1. Expect the Worse.
It might sound terribly pessimistic, but expect the worse. If you can imagine just how bad things could be–and you’re okay with the outcome–then you know exactly what you’re risking. Knowing the worst, but hoping for the best tempered my emotions when I first started. The worst case scenario (for me) was: failing at photography, going back to law school, and owning a really nice DSLR camera. Once I realized what life looked like if I failed, I was ready to succeed. There are others who might be risking a mortgage, health insurance, and a 401K, so I suspect the transition may be slower in order to safeguard one’s family and assets, but it’s important to really know what’s on the line.
2. Good Mistakes.
Although you don’t want to make mistakes, they’ll happen. It’s part of the growing process, but it’s important to know not all mistakes are bad. A misstep that allows you to learn, correct, or grow is actually beneficial and the more you make in the beginning, the less you’ll make later. Instead of trying to avoid mistakes, embrace each challenge optimistically and know you’re learning along the way.
3. Unconsciously Decision Make.
Okay, so that was written all yoda-style, but what I really mean is go with your gut. I’d like to think I carefully weighed all the factors before starting my business (consciously), but actual decision making is made in primarily in an unconscious way. This doesn’t mean this is bad or faulty, there’s simply just too much to digest, too many unknowns (I had never started a business before, could I really compete in a saturated market, would people like my suede boots?). Innately, we want to make educated decisions, but it’s important to know actual reasons are hardly enough to cover reality. Do as much research as you can, then take a jump!
(This also applies to buying lenses, the perfect photoshop actions, business cards, a website, etc)
4. Thought Paralysis.
This pertains to point three. When you start a business, you want to know all your options…at least I did. Little did I realize this would only lead to the inability to actually make a decision. The more you research, the more you’ll find. This may lead to a rabbit hole of choices (been there, done that), so try to set parameters before you dive too deep.
5. Emotional Anticipation and Assessment.
Let’s be real for a second: the daily grind of what I do isn’t glamorous. I sit in yoga pants for hours in front of my computer…I sing for my dog…I occasionally wear mismatched socks around the house. I work a ton and I photograph (professionally) on good days. Before I built my business, I looked forward to working from home with positive emotions (probably because I had never done so), but once things got going, I realized it wasn’t all pixie dust and kazoos. The emotions I place leading to or at the conclusion of an event are often the strongest because they’re idealized…it was important for me to take my perfected ideas of being self-employed and juxtapose it with reality. I wish I had done so earlier because it would have lessened the blow of sitting in solitude for hours, not having a water cooler to congregate around, and having a co-worker with four legs.
Whew, this was a doozey of a post. If you stayed with me until the end, you got bonus cool points in my book. If this helps just one person–even a tiny bit–then I’m happy. The more we help each other, the better this industry will become. Together.