As the year comes to a close, I normally begin planning the changes I would like to make over the winter. Business normally slows a bit, or at least changes gears, and I use the time to work on updating my marketing and set goals and action plans for the year. However, this year I thought it would be helpful to remind myself of some of the lessons I learned before setting those goals and share them with you. Here are 7 tips for a better photography business.
It is okay to fail. This year was littered with failures on several levels. Mistakes were made. Tough conversations were had. Weaknesses in my business and policies were brought to light. It hurt. It sucked. It was crippling and exhausted me emotionally for days. But once the emotions were dealt with, I was left with a choice – am I going to let these failures hurt or strengthen me? Ultimately, I chose for them to help me. Now, I have an appreciation for risk and failure. It is a great teacher. Failure is like a bad breakup – you don’t want to go through it, but you know you will be better off in the future. So keep looking forward, past your failures. It makes success taste that much sweeter.
Take risks. This year was full of financial risks. Some of them didn’t turn out. I ended up shutting down the cinema side of the business and losing thousands in the process. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Taking that risk and failing taught me a great lesson – don’t underestimate the learning curve, calculate your opportunity cost, focus on your core competencies. I am still learning and exploring posing, lighting, light modifiers, and how to make clients even more comfortable in front of a camera. Why would I think I can learn a new media, new programs, technological industry information, a new industry, gear, etc.? Given enough time, I know I could. But doing so was taking away from my accelerated progress in photography. It just didn’t make sense at this point. Once that bitter pill was swallowed and failure acknowledged, I turned my energies to enhancing my current skill set. Right now, my curiosity in studio lighting and how I can incorporate it into my wedding work will keep me plenty busy for the next few years.
Stay an amateur. Shoot for yourself. I am sure you have read this before – stay an amateur. Personally, not professionally. By that, I mean stay in love (amateur is French for “lover of”) with the art of photography. Last year, I was so busy that I only shot when I was paid to. This year, I picked up my camera a bit more for myself and became more involved with the consumption and study of photography through social media, art exhibits, and cinema. I started a notebook of ideas that I want to shoot and have even begun my first personal projects. I only have two shoots of those under my belt, but I am actively seeking out opportunities now to add to the collection. (I should note that I started those about a month ago.) Still, those two personal shoots have allowed me the freedom to shoot without the pressures inherent to a wedding. Those shoots have allowed me the freedom to try and fail. The freedom to explore and envision. I can easily see how shooting for myself will pay dividends both artistically and personally.
Say hello and seek opportunities. I am a shy person, but this past year I have been actively trying to overcome this bit by bit. To do this, I realized two things: 1.) Saying hello is a good and safe place to start and 2.) I have a talent that people appreciate. Just this past weekend, I was grocery shopping and there was a product demo. While I wasn’t in the market for her cabbage-based salsa, traffic seemed slow at her demo so I started a conversation with her asking not about the product, but about her businesses. As it turns out, she needs help with her website, marketing, and media. After referring her to various people who I know can help her various needs, I mentioned to her that I am a photographer. We exchanged information and scheduled a shoot. Which leads me to my next lesson…
Say yes. If the shoot sounds interesting and is within your skillset technically, say yes. Depending on the situation, even if it is a bit outside of your skillset at the time, say yes. Sometimes saying “yes” will reap you lasting business relationships that will help you grow personally, professionally, and profitably. Am I branded as a product or food photographer? No. Do I have the technical understanding of how to do it? Yes. Could this open up a new aspect of the business that I can pursue during the slow season? Yes. Will learning about food photography allow me to better light, pose, and photograph wedding accessories? Sure. In short, saying yes to things outside of your comfort zone helps your grow as a photographer and could pay dividends. Just don’t say yes to everything and be sure to strike a balance between new opportunities and developing your current business. Keep reading for more tips for a better photography business.
Give. One of my biggest goals for 2016 is to seek out and incorporate regularly scheduled opportunities to give. Every time I give, I get more in return. I volunteer with a youth leadership organization; I have booked weddings from other volunteers. I shot an underprivileged high school senior for free because he couldn’t afford any photographer; he called me years later to shoot his wedding. I volunteered through Wish Upon a Wedding to photograph a wedding, free of charge, for a couple with severe health issues; I met plenty of vendors who became friends and business associates. After being invited to a ballet to watch a dancer I knew, I noticed no one was photographing it. I offered and handed over the photos the first year to the director to use them however she saw fit. Now, I am in my fifth year of photographing the ballet and and selling the images. Even if I never received anything in return from these opportunities to give, I still would and my business would be fine. But one of the fastest ways to becoming successful is to give in strategic ways. Keep reading for more tips for a better photography business.
Work where you are wanted. This one is very important as you begin to become noted for your work. As my business has grown and prices have adjusted accordingly, more and more people will ask me to shoot their wedding. I am always honored, but that doesn’t mean that it is always a good fit. Sometimes, the couple will love my work but not my insight or suggestions. They will love my work, but not my prices. They will love my work, but not my policies or packages…and that is okay. They are not meant to be my clients. I had a couple who wanted to book me for their wedding but didn’t want to acknowledge my suggestions regarding their timeline and locations for photos. They thought they could travel into the city, shoot at five locations in downtown Detroit, and travel outside of the city to their reception in two hours on a Saturday when the Tigers were playing. Several emails were exchanged back and forth, but ultimately, I decided I wasn’t going to take the wedding. In the past, I felt pressure to take jobs in order to make people happy, only to walk away from the table having felt taken advantage of, asking myself “why did I say yes to that?” It is a terrible feeling and sucks the fun out of the job. Do yourself a favor, say “no” to jobs where you and all of your experience isn’t wanted. Keep reading for more tips for a better photography business.
I am sure as the winter progresses and I think more about the business, I will come to more conclusions. Until then, these are some of the lessons that will shape my guiding principles as I enter into a new year of photography. Remember, as a photographer, we have one of the greatest jobs in the world. Being discouraged at times is acceptable. Quitting is not. Learn, improve, execute, repeat.