My Most Valuable Mistakes
Picture this – 2013 – there’s me with my history degree and experience of working in the public sector. I’m about to start off on my journey of being a business owner. I have literally no clue what I’m doing. I don’t think of myself as a business person. I don’t even refer to myself as a photographer. Constant impostor syndrome. Any day now ‘they’ will figure me out and all will collapse around me in smoke and ruins. (Too dramatic?) I couldn’t possibly have imagined just how difficult and rewarding my journey was going to be. If you’d have told me how many mistakes I was going to make, how much money I’d waste, how many hours I would be working, how many times things would go wrong, I probably would have given up before I even started.
Fast forward almost 47years. I’m sat in my lovely home office, dog at my feet, cup of earl grey. I’m enjoying a relaxing January off after a busy 2019 wedding season spent with 40 of the loveliest couples you could ever hope to meet. My 2020 diary is fully booked – another year of amazing weddings across the North West working with couples who trust me completely and totally get my style. I’m exploring my love of business and marketing by sharing what I’ve learnt with other photographers and I’m generally pretty flipping happy, thank you very much!
I can honestly say I’m thankful now for all the mistakes I’ve made over the last 4 years. I would not wish them away. They taught me more than 200+ happy customers ever could. And I’m ok with the knowledge that I’ll make more mistakes in the future. I’m totally freaking zen about it actually.
That being said there are things I wished I’d learnt quicker and whilst I encourage you to go out and make your own mistakes, it’s also helpful to learn from other people’s too. So here’s a little run down of some of the most valuable mistakes I’ve made.
1. Offering it all
When I first started out, I just wanted to make money at photography. Any photography would do. I advertised for newborns, portraits, studio work, commercial and weddings. My website had a squillion different sections, each depressingly lacking in actual good examples of those genres. I spread myself so thin trying to do everything that I didn’t really get very good at any of them for a long term. My marketing was chaotic – trying to appeal to new mothers and brides to be at the same time. Or trying to get my foot in the door for some commercial photography whilst setting up outdoor lifestyle shoots. It just wasn’t working. Thankfully it quickly became clear to me that weddings were where my true enjoyment lay. So now all my focus goes into marketing weddings and whilst I still shoot the occasional portrait session, more often than not it’s for past wedding customers. Concentrating on this one area has given me the time to really develop my skills; attending workshops, learning from other wedding photographers and putting in the time to practise techniques. So what do you love to do? I’m not saying you can’t shoot weddings and portraits and newborns but don’t try to offer every type of photography under the sun.
2. Competing on Price
I remember someone saying to me early on – you’ll do really well if you target the budget market. And I thought, I don’t want to target the budget market. I want to target couples who actually give a shit about their wedding pictures, thank-you very much! Of course I started out cheaper; my price reflected my level of skill and experience. But I very quickly moved up price brackets. You can compete on a lot of things – shooting style, experience, what you offer in your packages etc etc. But if you compete on price you’ll always be on a loser. There will always be someone cheaper than you! Wouldn’t you love to be booked because the couple love you and your work rather than because you were the cheapest? Price your work properly, value yourself and you’ll find customers who value you too.
That’s not to say I think you have to try and push your prices higher all the time. A really important part of running a business is knowing how much you NEED to be charging. This will be different to everyone because we all have different income needs, disposable income goals and business costs. Working out how much you need to be charging gives you the solid knowledge you need to decide on your pricing levels.
3. Targeting everyone
When I started I didn’t give a hoot who booked me – I was just a bit shell shocked that people were actually willing to pay me money to be honest! I tried to appeal to every type of customer. I was scared of being niche. I thought that would scare people away and I wouldn’t be successful. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Trying to please everyone with your style will make you boring and generic. Trying to be bland and corporate and professional in an industry where people buy with their emotions as much as their head is not the right approach. Be yourself, shoot what you want to shoot, show that on your website. It’s ok to be niche. It’s ok to scare some people away. Because the people who stick around will love you and will invest in you and you will be more fulfilled in your work. Figuring out your ideal client and marketing to them specifically is without a doubt one of the most valuable things you can do for your business.
4. Being busy
Busy, busy, busy. Busy editing, busy faffing on your website, busy making lists. It’s so easy to get caught up in the busy work and pretend like you’re doing really well. Actually you’re probably just avoiding the work you should need be doing to move your business forward. I worked day and night during the first few years of my business because I felt I should do everything. What actually happened of course is that not enough got done and I got frustrated. I’d spend hours doing things I hated whilst the jobs that could have been improving my business were swept to one side because I didn’t have time. Solution? I outsource. It is ok to let go some of your work to someone you can trust. Ask yourself what do you have to do in your business that you don’t enjoy? What is taking up chunks of your time. For me it’s editing. It’s got to be done of course but it’s not something I particularly enjoy and I’m so slow at it! Now I’ve trained my assistant to edit – to my own personal recipe of course, and everything gets checked by me before it goes out to customers. But it saves me hours every week which I can spend on things that I enjoy and that help build my business. Or I just nap. Both are good. If you hate writing blog posts, or doing your own SEO or the admin and paperwork – there are people out there who can help you! Then you get to spend your time on energy on what you are good at and what you enjoy.
5. Comparison is the death of joy
If you’re in the photography industry, one of the biggest time saps is spending your days looking at other photographers work. I admit to losing hours and hours to this during my first couple of years. Kid yourself that it’s research, but what you’re probably actually doing is looking at other photographers and despairing that you’ll never be up to that standard. STOP. Just move away from the computer. I took a conscious decision early doors to seriously cut back on the number of photographers I was following on Facebook. I removed them from my newsfeed. I’m out of the loop of things occasionally but my insecurities about my work are at an all time low. Now I do occasionally choose to go and look at other people’s work when I’m feeling like I want some inspiration – but I’m not constantly bombarded with it all the time. Feeling shitty about your own progress or skills? Just click the unfollow button. There. All better.
6. Being a lone wolf
I love my own company. It’s an only child thing. Went to the cinema on my own yesterday. It was amazing. That’s one of the reasons I knew I’d be ok working for myself. But one of the best things that has happened to me in the past couple of years is finding friends in the industry. I assumed that all photographers would hate each other, we’re each others competition after all. That secrets and marketing tips would be closely guarded. That you could never be friends. I was so wrong! I’m not sure what other industries are like but the photography industry is full to the brim of helpful, kind and selfless people. I’ve met some amazing and inspirational friends. I’ve got a network of people I could call upon if I need it. We socialise, we chat, we plan together, we share referrals. It’s made all the difference to the success of my business and my happiness levels. If you are sat at home alone right now working on your business and you haven’t spoken to another human being today – message me. I promise you I’ll respond and we’ll chat and we can be friends too!
7. Neglecting my own learning
When I started offering workshops and mentoring for other photographers I was overwhelmed with the number of people who reached out to work alongside me. It was incredible and to this day I absolutely love working with other creatives to improve their business. But do you know what happened? I was spending so much time helping others that I stepped away from the work I had been doing on my own business. Short term that wasn’t a problem – mentoring and workshops are a great secondary source of income. Long term however I noticed I real knock on effect. My Google rankings slipped because I wasn’t working on them enough. My own development took a hit. Now I know I have to hit the right balance. I love mentoring but I still have to put aside time for my own development.
So there they are: my favourite mistakes. I’d love to hear about yours!
For more blog posts about running your own business head on over to my blog for photographers.
If there’s anything you are struggling with in your business or topics you’d like to see covered on the blog, or you’d just like to say hello and speak to another human being today connect with me on Facebook or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org