As I go into my 10th year in business I started reflecting on where I started. If I could travel back in time (soon, right?) these are the top 5 things I would tell myself.
- Act confident. There’s the phrase that most jobs require you have experience to get the experience. One of the things that I did pretty well when I was starting out in photography was that I acted like I knew what I was doing, even though I was completely panicked and hectic on the inside. Sometimes I was scrambling at straws but didn’t allow my clients to see how lost I felt. Real talk: I still do this. Even if it feels like the whole session is going sideways don’t let your client feel or know your inner stressed dialogue. The reason: they will feed off of that and it will go downhill from there. Also, your clients will loose faith and trust in your abilities as an expert in photography. Don’t be afraid to take a break to regroup your thoughts.
- Enroll in a business course. When I started my business I was still in wide-eyed in college. The business course I should have taken didn’t necessarily need to be at a college but maybe online courses or through another avenue like workshops, youtube, etc. At the very least learn how to setup a business, file taxes, sales tax, contracts, and business insurance. I understood photography but I had zero clue as to how to run a business. I spent most of my free time reading and participating in photography forums, all the forums. I tried to learn as much technical photographic knowledge as I could. I also made it a goal to gain the experience as quickly as possible. It is one of my bigger regrets not emphasizing on business education. I wish that I could stress upon my beginner self how important it was to set up a strong and successful business and that my work would not necessarily sell itself. I had to figure out how to sell myself, through the longer and more difficult way.
- Networking is King. Dovetailing off learning how to run a business is learning how to network. Not just networking but figure out how I network best. I completely underestimated how important networking was in any business and how important it is to have “friendors” or vendor friends. No matter how many social media outlets are developed word of mouth and referrals will always produce high quality leads. I would also reassure myself that it is OK to shamelessly plug what I do. The more people that know what you do and what you’re capable of more that they will share with other people who would actually need your services.
- Practice builds confidence. I would also tell myself to practice, practice, practice. Practice often. Practice weird. Practice continually. Practice with other people. Practice creatively. Practice knowing you will fail. Practice until you succeed. The only way that you can truly understand a new technical concept that you learned/heard is to try it. Learn the “rules” and then practice breaking them. Side note here: I wish I had learned flash sooner. It’s not as scary as you think.
- Develop Systems & Goals. In the beginning my only goal was “to book clients.” Bless her heart. My systems were a website, gmail, and a calendar. Again, bless. When I first started out I was in Athens going to college at UGA for photography. I ended up running a DealMob (basically a Groupon but only for Athens establishments) and sold 98 deals (1 hour session.) I spent the next semester or two shooting those 98 sessions. There were weekends where I had four sessions in one day. If you aren’t a photographer that’s a lot especially for an introvert. The unfortunate news about doing that is I made zero money but the very good news is that I built a very small client base, portfolio, and experience very quickly. Looking back I am grateful that I am type A enough to have managed those sessions with hardly any systems in place. Also reflecting on days past I wanted to tell myself to take a day sit down and write out how I wanted my booking, session time, delivery, and product ordering to go. Personally I do better with an awesome pen and paper and write out every little thing and then inputting them digitally. The next step in developing that system is figure out how much of it you can automate. One of the business expenses I underestimated it’s value is a CRM (customer relation manager.) While it takes time to setup it will save you even more time just with the amount of things you can automate (payment reminders being one, I was poor at keeping up with those!) Finally, I wish I could tell myself to learn how to develop goals. Detail those goals with action plans. For example: “book more clients” should have been book 4 clients each month by networking with these three people/businesses or hang fliers around campus. I would also reassure myself that dreaming big is an excellent thing to do.