We all make mistakes when we first start our businesses. With a look at what the first year of business looked like for her, here is Allie Bennett.
Allie is married to her high school sweetheart and is a stay at home mom to a four year old firecracker. She primarily shoots destination weddings but is based in the small river town of Parkersburg, WV. She photographs weddings for couples who share her desire for authenticity and vulnerability. Allie also documents home births and young families under the name The Birthographer. Take it away, Allie!!
Friends and acquaintances who are fiddling with photography frequently ask me for advice about how to turn it into a business and want a blueprint to take them down the road I've been on for six years.
I don't have very good answers because every situation is so different. Your unique vision for your life, your own photography and business goals, how you measure success and the realities of your life all play into how someone should go about becoming a photographer.
What I do have is a rather long list of mistakes I made starting out. As to not scare you completely away from pursuing your dreams, I'll pick five.
I have had to make money doing photography pretty much from day one. I had a job that supported my family, but it was grant funded and therefore not a long term guarantee. I knew that my next step from that job would be into photography, so I threw myself into it full force; while pregnant.
I present to you tips #1 and #2.
1. Don't start a business and have a baby at the same time. Just take my word on this one, because that whole ordeal is fodder for an entirely different blog post. Save the brain cells you will be left with after pregnancy and the newborn stage and don't try to tackle so many life altering changes at once. Just… No.
2. You can do anything, but you can't do everything.
[pullquote] You can't be the best maternity/baby/child/senior/couples/
wedding/commercial/boudoir/real estate photographer and still have time
and energy be a decent human being/friend/significant other/mom/etc
with a life outside of work.[/pullquote]
Strategically, you can be the best and most sought after at some of the above listed things. Save yourself the crash and burn and spare the hearts of your loved ones by honing in on who you are as a photographer and person before taking it to a business level. After you are in business, things can move fast and the (often self-inflicted) pressures to make money / gain clients / compete based on price / grow your business by any means necessary can blur your long term goals. You don't want to find yourself staring at a calendar full of booked dates for under-priced and widely varied sessions and feel totally bipolar and overwhelmed. Don’t waste your time on things that are less than your calling, leaving no time for your most important relationships (and no, I'm not talking about your relationship with your Lightroom catalog.) [pullquote]In the words of one of the best bands on the planet, The Avett Brothers, “decide what to be and go be it.” Specialize early in what makes your heart the happiest and stick to the plan. It will pay off.[/pullquote]
3. Comparing and Competing and Conflicting… Oh my.
I live in a very small place with a lot of talented folks. It's inevitable that we will share clients, shoot in the same locations, compete for the same weddings, etc., and the part that sucks is we get to be fully aware of it through social media!
I went through a spell early in my career where I got my feelings hurt over an old clients new Facebook photo done by the new photographer in town. What I failed to realize is that often the client chose based on price and I was no longer the least expensive. (Yay!) Perhaps it was a gift and they didn't actually choose someone over you! (Awkward) Or- maybe I didn't make them happy enough the first time around!! (Gasp!) It was not usually personal or malicious, but it is easy to feel like it you vs. the world when you are hyper aware of every single detail of people's lives around you because they are photographically served up to you via a never-ending scroll that is the Facebook Newsfeed.
I would see the latest work from the pros around me and feel deflated and “less than” because my work was still in progress (and still is to this day.) It was like a disease that, for me, could only be cured by not seeing it anymore. If you are prone to getting lost on the comparison trap, “unfollow” is your new BFF. Use it often, and use it with no remorse. It saved my career! Being oblivious to my competition allowed me to focus on what I was doing without the keeping up with the Joneses impulses.
4. The forest for the trees.
Self employment is hard, but it's pretty amazing too. Finding the appreciation for it when you are writing a $4000 tax check at the end of the year is tough; but that super fun week in March in Las Vegas geeking out at WPPI, or that Tuesday wedding last June in that all inclusive resort in Jamaica that I got to shoot, followed by a day of scuba diving and day drinking with the bridal party while everyone in America was at their 9-5 jobs, reminds me of just how special and amazing this job is.
We get to spend our working days in some of the happiest moments of people's lives. We are trusted with vulnerable and important moments. We can set our own schedules and our own systems of getting the job done. We can reinvent ourselves. We can create for a living. People are actually jealous of us. How blessed are we?
5. Do whatever it takes to keep perspective of just how amazing it is to be a photographer! Surround yourself with a community of cheerleaders both in and out of the industry and cling to their support, cheers, encouragement and swift kicks in the pants. It will fuel you through the ups and downs of a photography business year. If this is what you feel called to be, then go be it.
So, there you have it- five of the biggest mistakes I made when I was a new photographer. Some of them are easier than others to conquer and some of them I still struggle with from time to time. Thankfully I have found a network of people who continually push me and remind me why I even started in the first place.
Keep on keeping on.
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