Haiku Stairs Oahu

Lessons of a Business Owner

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Lessons of a Business Owner

Today, BTW Photography turns ten years old.  It sounds weird to celebrate the “birthday” of a business, but it just like a child, this business is a living, breathing entity that has consumed my thoughts, worries, time, energy, hopes, and dreams.  As I celebrate this milestone today, I have been thinking a lot about what I have learned, the difference between what I thought it would be and what it is, and the true reality of being a photographer.  Perhaps this post is more for me to organize my thoughts, but I thought some of my other creative friends or perhaps aspiring photographers or small business owners could either relate or benefit from what ten years has taught me.  So here you go, lessons of a business owner, in no particular order:

  • The best part of being a photographer are the people you meet and the relationships you form.  Hands down, this makes it all worth it.
  • A business is a hungry monster, it will always eat more of your time and money.
  • Get ready to work 80+ hours a week.
  • Also get ready to feel joy, drive, passion, and satisfaction like you have never felt before.
  • Photography literally changes the way you see the world, light, beauty, people, and places.  You can never not see the world as a bystander.
  • It takes a few decisions and potentially just a few minutes to change your business.  It can take 18 months to undo a mistake.
  • Success requires that you never stop learning.
  • Passion is not enough.
  • Overnight success takes 10+ years.
  • Just like this photo below, you don’t know exactly where your journey is going to take you.  The road isn’t clearly defined, but the dots will always connect and your destination is your choosing.  Enjoy the journey, the views, the people, and the lessons you learn along the way.
Haiku Stairs Oahu

“Stairway to Heaven,” Haiku Stairs, Oahu.

  • You need to know SO many aspects to run a successful business – website design, tax laws, business structures, accounting, marketing, photography, off camera lighting, SEO…the list goes on and on.
  • You will always have a to-do list.  It will never get done.
  • One thought, idea, sentence, relationship, or insight can change your life.
  • Everyone has something you can learn.  Everyone knows someone you should be introduced to.
  • Be true, genuine, and authentic.  This is rare in today’s world.
  • Here is the most damning truth about being a wedding photographer (and possibly small business owner) – You will sacrifice your life, memories, and relationships so you can celebrate other people’s life, memories, and relationships.  When every Saturday from April til December is taken up with weddings and events, it makes spending quality time with your family difficult.
  • Don’t be underdressed for weddings.  You represent the brand of your business.
  • Comfy shoes are a great investment.
  • This is a hard truth, but many in the artistic community will agree: Success is more about marketing and branding than it is about artistry. This one hurts.  I wish it was a meritocracy, but it isn’t.  Even art is capitalistic.
  • Build your business around what truly makes you unique and you will create a loyal following.
  • There are no shortcuts to success.  You have to be willing to put in years and years of hard work and sacrifice.
  • Remember and learn from your business failures but forgive yourself as well.  The second part is harder than it sounds.
  • Remember your first customers.  They took the largest amount of risk by hiring you when you first started.  Always be appreciative of them and connect with them from time to time.
  • Remembering a new person’s name doesn’t get easier.  I still forget someone I just met.
  • Sometimes, it takes YEARS for the dots to connect.  Be patient and trust the journey.
  • It is perfectly accepting to sing along to an awesome song behind your camera on the dance floor.
  • If you don’t want to catch the garter at a wedding, stand in the back of the group.  That thing is light and doesn’t travel far.
  • Cell phones are the devil at weddings.  Your crappy, grainy, cell phone photo will not be better than the photo I am creating with $10,000 worth of gear and 200 weddings under my belt.  I am sure iPhone is great at autofocusing in low light as the bride is walking down the aisle.  I am also sure that is exactly what the bride wants to see – 12 rectangular pieces of metal – as she has the most important moment of her life.  Also, thank you for shooting the group shot over my shoulder so 19 out of 20 people are looking at me, but 1 person is looking at you.  Now both of us have crappy photos.  (Rant over.  Not really, but I will stop there.)
  • Social media (face palm).  I don’t even know where to begin.  (Actually, I do because I already wrote about it here.)  Like all other technology, it is a tool.  I have made great friendships and connections with people as a result of social media.  All I will say is this: if you find yourself missing out of being present, living life, and truly experiencing a moment because it has to be documented, then I feel sorry for you.  Think of the irony – do you know how few photos I take with me and my wife, compared to the Average Joe my age?  And I am a professional photographer!  Why? Because I am too busy sitting in silence, counting my blessings, holding her hand, and enjoying a glass of wine on my front porch, thinking I am the luckiest person in the world and I don’t know how I got here.  That moment is for me, for us.  Not for 1,900 Instagram followers.
  •  Full disclosure: I suck at this next piece of insight.   Take time for self-care.  Work out, eat healthy, sleep 7-8 hours a night, maintain important relationships, read daily.  What good are you to your clients if you are not good yourself?
  • Give and help.  You never know when it will come back to you.
  • Pick one thing and be an expert in it.  This will allow you to elevate yourself above the rest in the field.
  • Ten minutes of petting a dog does wonders for your stress level.  It helps when you lay on the ground with them and let them lick your face too.
  • No matter how many times they tell you they are, you always feel like you can do more to make your parents proud.
  • Sony, Nikon, Canon…who cares?!  Just take the damn picture!
  • Success boils down to three things: Who you are as a person.  How you present yourself.  Who you know.
  • Everyone has a great idea.  Few people actually execute it.  That is the number one difference between someone who is successful and someone who is not.
  • Owning a business is a marathon.  Keep that in mind when you are on, what feels like, mile 13.1.
  • Good coffee really does make you more productive.
  • Being patient is the most overlooked “secret” to success.  Be patient and nurture all of the pieces you know will make it into the final vision of your dream – relationships, finances, work ethic, etc.
  • Say thank you. A hand written thank you card is a lost art.
  • Lastly, no one cares how bad of a dancer you are.  Just go have fun.  Fun, confidence, and laughter are sexy as hell on a dance floor.  Go shake everything your mama gave ya!


On a side note, special thanks to all who have been with me on this journey.  Truly, you have given me the best life by allowing me to live my passion alongside you.  I am grateful, humbled, and indebted to you.  I hope the moments, emotions, relationships, and memories I capture for you are priceless.  Here is to another 10 years together.  I hope these lessons of a business owner help give you insight and motivate you to follow your own passion.  You won’t regret it.