Back in 2010, when I was just starting my photography business, I was doing high school senior photography. And, like most new photographers, mostly taking photos of my friends and family on the side.
People kept telling me I was talented and that I should do more, but at the time, I didn’t really know what “more” looked like.
Truthfully, I had no idea what being a professional photographer looked like. I knew I liked taking photos, but turning that passion into a business is an entirely different beast, and an intimidating one at that.
Where do I start? How much do I charge? Where do I find clients? Those were just a few of the questions running through my mind that I needed answers to. And, to be honest, new questions never stop coming in. The further along I get in my business, the more new questions arise.
Being a photographer doesn’t come with a clear-cut trajectory – the path is long, winding, and full of bumps and hills. Fortunately, these days photographers have access to a ton of tips, tricks, and resources, both free and paid, to take our businesses to the next level. It just takes knowing what they are and how to find them.
Learn, Learn Some More, Then Keep Learning. Also, Learn!
Continual learning is the backbone of any photography business. For better or worse, things are changing all the time, which means you need to as well.
Especially with the digital world continuing to evolve at super speeds, you want to be sure you keep yourself up-to-date with new gear, best practices, techniques, and business strategies.
To start, condition yourself to get into the habit of answering questions as they come up – not just the fundamental questions, but the emotional, nuanced ones too.
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For instance, if you’re feeling uneasy about asking clients for a referral – asking anyone for a favor can be uncomfortable, but a business favor is a new flavor of discomfort – then read up on it!
There’s an abundance of information out there on how to be honest and value-driven (and how not to be sleazy) when soliciting business favors from all sorts of experienced professionals. You just have to take the time to look.
The internet, with its vast sea of information, is both a gift and a curse. To prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed, rather than think about all the things you’ve yet to learn, focus on tackling the information question by question, as each comes up.
The internet is also a sea of inconsistencies – different people have different approaches, and contradict each other often. So pick the strategies that you feel comfortable with and that resonate with who you are. If you’re not sure, you can always gut check by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and asking yourself if someone tried this approach with me would I feel good about it?
Before long, you’ll be a lean, mean knowledge machine. (Sorry, that’s ridiculous… But true!)
Build Relationships With Other Business Owners
If you’re just starting out – hell, even if you’re a full-time, seasoned professional – reaching out to other business owners can be intimidating.
A lot of us are cursed with “imposter syndrome”, the idea that we don’t belong in photography because we’re not qualified enough, experienced enough, or talented enough.
But the good news is, pretty much everyone feels that way sometimes, including (perhaps especially) the network of business owners you’re thinking about reaching out to. In fact, I’d venture to guess that no one knows imposter syndrome more intimately than other business owners.
We don’t have a certificate that says, “Congrats! You’re a certified photography business owner capable of all it entails!” Instead, we have a whole bunch of ongoing unanswered questions and confusions.
Think of other business owners as your new tribe. They understand your trials, triumphs, and setbacks more than anyone else because they’ve experienced them too.
Despite what your negative mind gremlins might tell you, most of ‘em are eager to help you out and pick your brain in return.
Trust Your Style
It can be helpful to study other photographers’ work, especially when you’re just starting out, but be careful not to fall too far down that rabbit hole.
For one thing, constantly stalking other photographers can cause a whole bunch of undue stress, as you’ll likely unfairly compare yourself to the work of others. That’s a discouraging mentality you don’t need in your life when you’re trying to take things to the next level.
Secondly, leaning too heavily on the work of others will begin to infiltrate your style, and you’ll run the risk of losing what makes you unique and your ability to refine that.
Practice self-trust. That means choosing only your best images to send to a client rather than a whole flood of ‘em.
And it also means not spending countless hours tweaking, changing, and adjusting every little thing to death.
Not only will this help you build trust in yourself and your style, but it will make for happier clients – no one wants to wade through hundreds of photos or wait an eternity for them to arrive.
Make Time to Work on Your Business
This one sounds so easy, but it might be the hardest to execute. We all have just 24 hours in a day, which—especially when you’re running a business—can feel pretty damn limited. So make it easier on yourself and create a schedule you’ll stick to.
Take time to sit back and really think about what your business needs, and how long you expect it will take to fulfill those plans. From marketing to margins, products to teaching, and so much more, your business has a whole bunch of potential.
You just need to be sure you set aside the time to make it happen.
Once you lay all this out, you might find that it takes more time than you anticipated, so be prepared to make a few sacrifices. This might mean spending less time watching TV or playing video games, and saying no to free services for friends and family—whatever sacrifices means to you. But it also indicates some bad-ass business growth is on the horizon, and you’re committed to making it happen.