If you found your way here, I hope this blog post helps you feel like you are not alone on your journey to starting your photo business. I am absolutely driven by the magic of connecting with people and helping them feel and look amazing. So I want to welcome you to my first blog and hope you feel at home and find a fellow photographer friend here, because I also enjoy helping out a fellow start-up photographer.
Here I am once again, in a third country opening up my photography business for the third time in my life, in a third different language. I should be feeling confident because I have done this two other times. There’s this chorus line of a song playing over and over again in my head … “I’m so excited, I just can’t hide it….” by the Pointer Sisters. At every stage, I have literally felt excitement in my gut, and they(whoever they are) says that you should trust your gut. So I’m doing just that and feeling grateful that I do not feel fear.
Everyone’s journey is unique, and my experience may help someone who may probably be going through the same processes as me. Grab a coffee and let’s chill together. My hope is that these 7 points can give your some encouragement on your path.
The topic for today is - Important things to focus on vs the not so important things to focus on when starting a photography business. I am sure I can think of more points but for today it is these 7 that make a difference for me, or said differently, these are 7 things I would tell the girl who started her first business in South Africa 19 years ago.
1. Fear vs Curiosity - so this one is a big one for most of us. As you go through these points, you might find that all are big ones for most of us. My fear has been overwhelming in the last two countries I started up. In each country, the fear was for different reasons. In South Africa, I was young and just starting out fresh out of Uni, so my lack of experience in life might have had a lot to do with that fear. In Mexico, I was afraid that I had lost my abilities to be creative. Once my kids were born, I didn’t use my professional gear anymore, just my iPhone to snap a thousand pictures of my babies and I mean 1000’s (200000 to be more precise). I am certain my kids hold the world record for most photos taken of them in their short 8 and 6 years of life. I can count my own baby photos in 1 hand…I have very few. But back to the point, fear can be a debilitating voice in your head that keeps telling you that you might fail. It can even be just the right amount of enough to stop you from achieving your dreams. I want to challenge you in making your curiosity about that failure more dominant. So get curious about failing and do it anyway, to see what happens. You may completely surprise yourself and succeed. You may be asking but HOW? when all I have is this one camera with this one lens and no lighting, with no studio space. This brings me to my next point.
2. Investing in more Gear vs Less Gear - A good photographer always finds light and gets creative with it with that one camera. The amount of gear you own does not make you a better photographer, it makes you a photographer who has a lot of gear. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the mindset of believing you don’t have all the right gear. As if that one extra lens or that absolutely perfect backdrop or off-camera light, will give you that perfect photo. Let’s get real about this one quickly and move on. Do not waste any more time and money worrying that you don’t have what another photographer may have to get the perfect picture. Rather spend your money on educating yourself in business or improving your skills. I promise you that understanding how to set up a good functioning business will add more value to your ninja skills as a photographer. If you don’t have the money use all the possible free resources out there, like youtube, podcasts and get books from the library on how to improve your negotiating, marketing and sales skills. You are more than a photographer when you decide to start a business. You are a salesperson, marketing manager, customer-care person and more. So focusing on not having enough gear is a common mistake, that you should not fall into. Create a space for your own one-man show. You are not your gear, it does not dictate your talent, make your gear work for you. “The Instrument is not the camera but the photographer” Eve Arnold. Business needs to thrive with business know-how, your talent and passion to take exceptional photos already exist, keep shooting and energise your focus on education rather than spending money you don’t have buying gear. I only ever use two lenses regularly from my current kit. I also never had a studio space in until now.
3. To compare or not to compare - this is kind of an extension of the gear point above, but I feel it is important enough to be its own point. When just starting out, it is easy to feel like you don’t have the perfect business. It can feel demotivating to look at what others may have, this creates feelings in yourself that make your business look kinda crap in comparison. It is important NOT to compare. If you are beginning on a budget, do not expect to have a perfect looking photo business. It’s important to function as a good business, that’s the trick I believe. Websites, photo studios, storefronts, marketing and gear to name a few can make you feel like you are not a professional business yet. The feelings can get so overwhelming that you almost feel like quitting. First, don’t quit and most importantly 2nd do not compare your first year to someone else’s 8th or 10th year. This will completely deplete your self-worth. Stay focused on growing in every way, as a photographer, post-processor, and business person. Keep your cost as low as possible and start to build your client base first before you splurge on big-spending business ideas. Give yourself credit for what you achieve and access yourself in comparison to yourself in the last months rather than another photographers last years.
4. Marketing vs Networking - In the beginning, there is no need to spend money on marketing. Don’t get me wrong because marketing is so important, but when you starting out there might not be a budget for it. I found focusing on networking to make meaningful connections and grow your peer group helps a lot. Authentically connect with people who are meaningful to you. Keep reaching out to people who inspire you, and no matter if the doors you knock on don’t open, keep trying. Make time for face to face connections with people. Of course with the current covid situation around the world, make an effort to set up virtual coffee dates instead. Finding the right peer group is vital for your growth. When you are starting out you will have all kinds of questions, and having supportive like-minded people to brainstorm with, can make your struggles feel less. It helps to be surrounded by people who cheer you on and hold you accountable for your goals. Networking is your best form of marketing. Get out there are let the world get to know you. For me, I have had to force myself because two of these places were foreign countries. I am talking about a different culture, different language and completely different business cultures. My entire network of people is in South Africa in English and Mexico in Spanish. Switzerland has felt like I had to make more of an effort because I am starting from zero. So no more existing client base, friends or people I may know to rely on. Getting out there to meet new people has also opened the door to me integrating in my new country.
5. Fail fast vs trying endlessly to do things perfectly - Mmmhhh! This one is a tough one for me because I am obsessed with getting everything perfect. So my advice is to take quick and imperfect action, fail fast so you can learn and move on from it. Important is to get comfortable with getting things wrong it is how we learn. That fear we spoke about earlier, it’s okay to have it, let it in because it keeps you feeling alive and can be the drive to keep moving forward. It is about testing out new things. Consider yourself to be an eternal student of life. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know or understand something, we are always learning. Don’t wait until you think you feel ready, there is no time like the present. Be brave and do it.
6. Overthinking what others think of you vs what you think of yourself. “What others think of you is non of your business” I heard this somewhere and I repeat it to my insecure bruised ego like a mantra. “Stay in your own business” I also heard that somewhere. Overthinking what others think of what you are doing is a complete and utter waste of time and energy and takes you to a place of feeling bad about yourself. Let’s face it there’s really no time for that when you are working your butt off to get started with the business of photography. When you find yourself falling into this trap… repeat after me! ‘What I focus on expands’ and then focus on the image of being totally and utterly happy for achieving what you set out to achieve. In the beginning stages of starting a business, it can feel like an awkward time, you don’t feel confident with your decisions, you haven’t figured out your pricing, products or whatever else it may be, so this is why we do point number 3. focus on finding a photography peer group to support and encourage you, and then keep growing into the business photographer you are. Praise yourself for everything you achieve or fail at, these are good things. Most importantly give yourself permission to be who you are without apology.
7. Patience vs impatience - Patience wins hands down. Having said that, it is like a daily practice for me. It is easy for me to say this because my earnings do not depend on putting food on our table. But still hear me out, keeping your patience, allows you to keep your mind calm which leads to clear thinking. This means you are making decisions without a whole lot of cortisone pumping through your body. Where ever you may be in your stage of business and personal life will ultimately determine your pace. If you are a mum of young kids and juggling starting a business, it can get overwhelming because you feel like you have to neglect one for the other. So set your priorities, give yourself a pat on the back, praise yourself for the things you get done. Give yourself scheduled time for all your tasks and when that time is up, stop what you are doing and focus on the next thing. This way you feel like you achieving rather than not getting anywhere. Ultimately I am saying give yourself kindness, understanding and patience through this time because it sets the tone for the road ahead. Burnout can become real when you are juggling too many things all at once. Being patient with yourself is like finding comfort in a quiet moment.
So there you have it, my 7 essentials to focus on when starting a photography business. This is what I learnt over the years. I’m sure there is more to add to this, so please feel free to connect and let me know what you would tell your younger self. At whatever stage you may be on your own journey to starting up your photography business, I would love to hear what your important vs not so important things are in your journey. Let’s do point 3 and build a supportive peer group, sharing and growing together.