I officially started my business back in 2012 but it wasn't until this past year that ALP felt real. It took well over a year but things finally took off. I've been shooting every day, working all the time, booking into fall of 2016, my life has become eat/sleep/dream photography and I wouldn't have it any other way. Running my own business has taught me so much and allowed me to accomplish things that I never thought were possible. A couple of weeks ago I was approached by someone interested in starting their own photography business and was asked if I had any advice. It's still a little crazy to think that anyone would be coming to me for advice but I know (very well) what it's like to be in that beginning stage. To know that you want to create something but not being entirely sure how to go after it. I figured I would post what I shared with her on here as well as a little inspiration for anyone who might be looking for it.
What I've Learned
Keep at it.
There are going to be days when you feel like you're wasting your time. When I first started my business I had no idea how I was going to find clients, I had minimal inquiries and I wasn't sure how to even start getting my name out there. I would set these huge goals and in the beginning - I would hardly ever reach them. In these beginning stages it's hard to see the end in sight, but don't stop. After the initial overwhelming idea that it was "impossible" to be as big as I wanted to be, I got over it. I got out there and spread the word myself. I dropped business cards everywhere, I hung up fliers, I met with friends, I met with parents/cousins/aunts/friends of friends (seriously, no shame). I made myself big, I showed people my work, I shot everything I could get my hands on and I shared it nonstop. People started to talk and pass my name along, eventually emails started flooding in and I was getting weekly inquiries. I'm not going to say it wasn't hard and that it happened overnight - it takes TIME. But if you keep at it, it will happen.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
This is a life lesson that I often need to remind myself of. Even before I started shooting weddings I was obsessed with Style Me Pretty, 100 Layer Cake, Green Wedding Shoes, pretty much every wedding blog that would link me to amazing photographers. I would fall asleep to these blogs and spend my lunch breaks writing down names of new photographers I loved and wanted to check out later. I still spend time reading photography blogs, stumbling upon new photographers and their work, and admiring different styles. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing - it’s often inspiring and can push me to work harder. However, there is definitely a line. Being an entrepreneur I’ve found it’s difficult to ever feel as if you’re doing enough. Whatever you’re dreaming of, whatever you’re pushing for - someone else is already there. That’s just something you need to accept. But when you’re constantly filling your head with how incredible everyone else is and how much further along the road they are than you, it can make you go crazy and want to give up. It’s hard to stop doing this but I try to admire more, compare less. Appreciate others for what they’re doing and then remind myself, there is a reason I’m not doing the same thing. Keep doing you, take the time you’ve been spending comparing yourself to others and use it to make your own business better. Sounds easy, but for me it’s definitely taken a while to quit this habit.
Know when to stop working for free.
Let me start this one off by saying there is NO shame in working for free. Because you’re not working for free, you’re working for experience and that can be worth way more than money. I worked for free all the time when I started out and I would still work for free if the right opportunity presented itself. I didn’t feel comfortable shooting my own weddings, engagement sessions, or newborn sessions until I had shot a lot with other photographers. I wanted to make sure I knew how to handle every situation - what if it rains? What if the baby won’t stop crying? What if my flash won’t work? If I could learn how to handle these things without the pressure of being the primary photographer, or the pressure of being paid, I knew I would be stronger in the long run. That experience was priceless. As I learned more, I started charging more. The more experience I had under my belt, the more confidence I developed. The more books I read, the more conferences I attended, the more I studied… the more I was worth. It’s definitely hard to start raising your prices; it can feel awkward, and scary. But there comes a point in your career when you have to realize your worth. Your time, your experience, your knowledge, your talent - it’s worth something. That’s not to say you can’t lower your prices for the right situation. If there’s a venue you’re dying to shoot at, if you have a new lens you can’t wait to try out and someone needs a second shooter when you’re available… by all means do it! But when you do set your prices, know what you’re worth. Don’t let anyone or any situation make you feel less than that.
Work with clients that have a style similar to your own.
This sounds obvious but the more weddings I shoot, the more I realize how important it is to find clients that are willing to trust me and my style. It makes it easier on everyone going into the big day when we're all on the same page and wanting the same things. I’ve been fortunate enough to be picky when it comes to my clients and it’s always paid off. I’m always looking for a certain type of client and I try my best to be sure we're a great match before going through with booking. For me it’s the clients that know it’s going to be worth it when I pull them from the reception during sunset for 15 minutes of portraits with killer light. The ones that are just as excited as I am about the venue, the light, the details. The brides that let me grab their wedding dress and hang it from the top of a barn for the perfect shot. The ones that are ready to let loose and try something new during an engagement session. The ones that are emailing me in the middle of the night as the wedding date approaches with ideas they want to run by me (yes, believe it or not I DO appreciate this and I’m most likely up doing the exact same thing). These are the people that keep me motivated, inspired, energized, and that’s what I need.
Photographer/entrepreneur friends are so important.
I never thought that I would be running my own business. Ever. I took ZERO business classes in college, numbers scare me, and I never associated myself with being a “business woman”. I came into this naively thinking that I’d be fine because, I'd be a creative and I'd be taking/editing pictures all of the time. Wrong. After getting the sense knocked into me and discovering that the creative aspect is barely 50% of this job, I realized I was going to need some help. I spent 9 months taking photography/business classes at BU to get my foot in the door which was great. The best thing that experience gave me was a network of photographers that turned into friends. I met people who were also just starting their businesses and in the exact same position as me, and I met people that had been in business for years. These people became mentors that I went to daily (okay, hourly) with questions, panic attacks, ideas, the list goes on. I can’t begin to explain the importance of these people. As I get older so many of my friends are becoming successful in their occupations. I am beyond proud of them and I love hearing about their jobs but honestly, I often find it hard to connect with them when we’re talking about careers. I don’t have a boss, I don’t have set hours to be working, I don’t have a salary, benefits, coworkers… I don’t really feel as if I’m a part of the same "corporate world" that so many of my friends live in and this can be tough. It’s so crucial to have friends that have a career and lifestyle similar to mine. Friends that understand what it’s like to be in this messy whirlwind of running your own business. Friends that get it when I say I sometimes, truly, have no idea what I’m doing (don’t be nervous, I promise I always figure it out eventually). Friends that understand what it’s like to be committed to work almost every weekend from spring until the end of fall, and the implication that this has on my social life. These are the people that make me feel a little bit less crazy, and sometimes that’s all I need.
I can’t tell you how many times a day I need to be reminded of this. Keep working hard, don’t give up and everything WILL work out. Believe in yourself even when things seem impossible. Take a break, step back, breathe. The solution will find it’s way into your head if you just give it time. It always does.