Updated: Jun 5
If you are anything like me, starting a business can be scary stuff. What should I do first? What licenses do I need? How do I protect myself legally? How do I attract customers? The list of "things" to can be overwhelming. And being the go-getter I am, I jumped in head first not really knowing what I was doing. I had studio experience but never had done anything on my own before. And to be honest- I wasn't even all that great in the beginning. (That's okay, we all start somewhere.) Admittedly, I seem to be the type of person who has to learn everything the HARD way. I have learned a few things over time...like what NOT to do when starting this type of business. I am sharing the things I learned the hard way so hopefully someone that is just starting this journey can avoid them, or at least know how to deal with them. And guess what? I am STILL learning! So here we go...
1). NOT GETTING YOUR MINDSET RIGHT
I am making this first because I feel that is the absolute MOST important lesson I have learned. And unfortunately, it was quite recently. Back story...in 2009 is when I started to try to take the leap of making photography a business. Even though I was very beginner and had the beginner skills to match, I was gaining momentum very quickly. Two years later my husband at the time and I decided to get a divorce. I was then a single mom trying to make it on my own and too proud to ask for help. There was one time I sold a good bit of my equipment because I missed two weeks of work due to being severely sick and was behind on my rent. At that point I pretty much was thinking to myself " I am never going to attain this. What is the point?" I did a handful of weddings here and there after that but didn't even advertise photography anymore and I surely wasn't fine tuning my skill. Still in the back of my mind I was going to pick it back up. (One day....) I got remarried in the beginning of 2016. Later that year, we had the Great Flood of 2016. I lost my camera and pretty much everything I had. That's when I was like, "Well there's my sign, it's over." My husband told me he was not going to let me give up on myself. He told me to go order the camera I needed when we got our income tax return in. So I did. I updated my photography on Facebook, did a few sessions, and got my business legal in 2017. Since then I have been doing mostly editing work for other photographers, but have done some sessions here and there. Mostly practicing my craft. At the beginning of this year we started working on my studio. We had some unexpected family issues come up that put the project on hold. Every time I went to advertise a mini session or put out an ad I thought to myself, " I can't do this until my studio is finished." I just had this gut wrenching feeling that just stopped me every time and I could not figure out why. And then I heard about mindset work. Honestly I had no idea what it was or what it meant but one day I was on Facebook asking about it, and it's like all of a sudden out of nowhere all these resources came to me. Long story short, I had a limiting belief (because of things that happened when I was younger) that if I was going to do something it had to be 100% perfect or I shouldn't do it at all. I also had a limiting belief that no matter what I did my efforts were not good enough. I also had a limiting belief that if I had something good it would be taken from me. That's why every time something got hard I shut down. I just didn't understand why until now. So my advice is get your mindset right! There are many resources out there that discuss this, but if you on a subconscious level don't believe in yourself 100% it will be the biggest road block you will ever face in your business, no matter how hard you try. "Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction" - I saw this on Rachael Brenke's (the Lawtog) Instagram the other day and I loved it!
2. NOT HAVING A CLEAR PLAN
Whenever I first started doing this, I would take photos for any type of event, session, etc. I had a very difficult time "branding" myself because I didn't know what my brand was. I had too many options, and I didn't know what I wanted the final outcome to be. After several years I realized I wanted to photograph family and maternity and newborn sessions. There's several other genres of photography that I used to do but didn't particularly enjoy. Which there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I just didn't vibe well with them. When I first picked up a camera I really enjoyed taking candid shots of my family. That's what lit me up inside. I want to be able to be at home with my children and work from home. So I decided to go back to focusing on that. I want to have a style that is more moody and different then everyone else. I want to be able to add my own artistic flair to what I photograph. I am still tweaking my style. My advice is to stop and think about what it is you REALLY want to do with your business. What is your final goal? How do you envision yourself in 1, 2, 5, 10 years? Who is your target client? If you don't have a clear plan you will just do what everyone else is doing and not feel truly satisfied because you are not being true to yourself. Get clear on what you want to do, and then be consistent.
3. NOT BEING ORGANIZED
To be honest, I am a neat freak. I have 4 kids and so it wouldn't seam that way all of the time. But clutter and disorganization stress me out. (Which is ironic because my whole family is pretty a.d.d. and leaves a trail behind them everywhere.) I am not talking about physical clutter though. I am talking about the "paperwork" aspect of the business that a lot of us sometimes like to ignore. I remember when I went to file taxes on my business for the first time last year and I was like, "Man on man, I could kick myself for not having a system for keeping track of my earnings." I was able to get it all together in an hour or so but had I been organized I could have spared myself the headache. Or I can't tell you how may times in my photography groups I have seen someone say," Help! I accidentally lost all the images on my SD card." (That has never happened to me, knock on wood.) But seriously...get several cards, and have a system in place. As soon as you get home from a session, upload them, store them to a cloud, external hard drive, etc. The point is to have them in multiple places. Being organized and having a system in place for storing and editing and delivering images makes life so much easier. I could actually write a paragraph about this but I am going to include it here: make sure you are scheduling time for yourself to balance your work life and your home life. I am far more productive when I have designated days and times for working because I know I will get it completed with no distractions. Sometimes you have to be flexible, but for the most part- schedule it in advance!
4. NOT PROTECTING YOUR BUSINESS
So this doesn't apply to me but it's pretty dang important. It should probably be tied with #1. I see this all the time...people don't protect their businesses. YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS A PRIORITY. Yes, I am yelling, because it's that important. Make sure you use contracts in all your business dealings. Contracts protect you as well as your clients should something go wrong. It also sets clear expectations for both parties and makes your clients take you more seriously as a business. Make sure you know the laws to operating a business for your area and that you are operating within those laws. Make sure you are filing your taxes!! I have heard horror stories about businesses getting shut down before they start because they never filed for a business license and didn't pay taxes. Get insurance! Hopefully this never happens to anyone, but should someone get hurt or GASP...your gear gets stolen.... Or God forbid you accidentally lose images from a wedding. You need to be protected so you can recover. Never assume it won't happen to you, because it can. Try to join a PPA if you can. If you need info on contracts or anything legal having to do with photography I strongly recommend checking out the Lawtog. The company is ran by a lawyer/photographer so she knows her ins and outs!! Make sure you are registering your work with copyright office. watermark online photos. A lot of photographers think this is tacky but if I can do anything to frustrate someone from stealing my photos I will. Do not share others work to advertise your own business unless you want to get in trouble for copyright violation.
5. NOT DELEGATING
So some of you may have a team or will eventually have a team, or a second shooter. You may be sitting here thinking... "What does this have to do with me? I do everything solo!" I don't necessarily mean the business aspect of it. I mean the mom aspect of it. You can seriously burn yourself out trying to juggle many hats. This is probably something I have learned the hard way. If you have children who are capable of chores, give them a few chores they can handle. I don't touch dishes or walk dogs or take out trash at my house. My oldest two are capable of doing their own laundry. I don't clean their rooms and I don't put away their clothes or toys. I understand that some kids are too young to help or some may have circumstances that prevent them from helping. My point is don't try to do it all if you can get some help. Which brings me to my next point...
6. NOT TAKING TIME FOR YOURSELF
I am the biggest hypocrite by saying this, but I am working on it! Take time for yourself! It's so easy to get wrapped up in the responsibilities of being a mom and owning a business, but if you don't take time for yourself your cup will run dry. And you can't pour from an empty cup. Something I have learned from one of my role models is to take time every morning to meditate. I say positive affirmations to myself and I also read scripture, and pray. If you are not a believer- then do you...just take time to clear your head and treat yourself right mentally. Try to get creative and see where you have a few minutes every day to just take a breather. My husband is really good about encouraging me to take time for myself on the weekends to do things I like. I do the same for him as well. If you don't have a significant other and you need a few minutes to work or even relax, see if you can trade babysitting with a friend. Get creative...but taking time for yourself is an absolute must.
7. BEING ENTITLED
You are probably thinking, "Huh? What an odd thing to say!" But hear me out. I HATE to admit this, but here we are. I had a really bad mentality at first about clients. I would get so hurt if one of my clients went to someone else for pictures. I would take it so personally and get my feelings hurt. I would think I must have done something wrong or I would think they weren't loyal to me or that I wasn't good enough. And then I got over myself. No one OWES you their business. Is it possible people can like multiple photographers, multiple styles? Sure! Is it possible that maybe you didn't give them the service they were looking for? Possibly. Instead of taking things personally use it as a learning opportunity to grow. We are not entitled to anyone's business. We EARN their business. Regardless if it's friends, family, etc. Sometimes people like to chase good deals no matter how good you are, or how much you do for them. That's fine!
8. NOT KNOWING WHEN TO SAY NO
This is another one I had to learn the HARD way, and I am STILL learning. I remember one time years ago (when I was brand new lol) I was asked to take some family pictures at it was a rather large family. I was trying to be a people pleaser so I said yes to it, even though I was weary about it because the room was going to be darkly lit and I didn't have a camera body at the time that could handle high ISO without being grainy, and I also didn't have a additional lighting outside of my external flash. I thought I could wing it and long story short I had to refund the whole session and probably made my friend very upset bc the pictures came out horrible. She was very graceful about it but I will never forget that. I honestly should have told her no. I have also had times I have been taken advantage of in a bad way. There were a couple of times people promised to pay me after a session and never paid me. (I started putting payment was due before session in contracts after that.) Just the other day I turned down a wedding and referred to another photographer because I didn't think I was a good fit for their vision. It's OKAY to say no. I think it's really important to follow your intuition- if it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. It's nice to go the extra mile for clients, and you should, but you shouldn't have to be a doormat in the process. At the end of the day, you ARE running a business. Your time and talents are worth the prices you are asking. You don't need to sell yourself short to please everyone. You will never be able to please everyone 100% of the time. Sometimes a possible client and you are just not a good fit, and that is OKAY!! You definitely don't want to burn yourself out physically or emotionally especially when you are a mom.
9. NOT HAVING AN ATTITUDE OF COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION
This one doesn't necessarily apply to me but I see this so much, it's such a pet peeve and it's worth touching on. I hate when people don't like to help others in a profession. I can't tell you how many times I have seen an established photographer just belittle someone starting out. Whether it's critiquing work in a non-constructive way, or just not wanting to explain a technique, etc. We ALL had to start somewhere. There are people that have mastered their skill better than me, and there are people that reach out to me for help. I am lucky to be in several photography groups that I have gained so much knowledge from because everyone was willing to share. I have had friends reach out to me and ask me to help them with sessions, or have even given me a job because they couldn't take it, or wanted me to edit to relieve some of the workload.(Hey, more $!!) If I didn't have a good professional relationship with others in my field I wouldn't get these opportunities. We can all help each other learn and grow. Yes I do believe to some extent we have to try to learn and grow on our own by looking up resources, and practicing, but there are just some things I would have had no idea where to even look had I not asked. If you are worried about people copying your style... look people can try but it's never going to be the SAME, and often times it's pretty obvious. You may run across that one person who is just crossing professional boundaries, such as messaging your clients, stealing your photos for advertising, copying your sets down to all the props, etc... and then you take appropriate actions such as blocking them, and taking it further if needed.
10. CARING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK
This could fit under mindset, but I felt it deserved it's own paragraph. Look I am just going to say it- You are not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Not everyone is going to like your work. There may be a time you will encounter people saying some not so nice things about you. You can not, and will not please everyone all the time. You simply just can't. You can't let other people's opinions of you be what drives your motivation, or you will fall short. Do what you are doing because it makes YOU happy. Whether it's that you like serving people, or making beautiful art, or whatever reason...let THAT be your drive. The only people you need to be worried about pleasing is your clients, and even then, sometimes things don't work out as you will have hoped. If you have truly messed up, do everything in your power to make it right. But if someone makes an ugly comment about your work- that's their opinion. Doesn't mean it's everyone else's, or that it has to be yours. There was a time I used to get so sick to my stomach if someone had even the smallest negative thing to say about my work and I almost stopped sharing because of it. Then I realized I was letting them have power over me if I did. There will be so many people who WILL enjoy what you do. You won't know if you don't put yourself out there.
Well, that's it! Those are the top 10 mistakes I would avoid, and also mistakes I wish I would have known without having to learn the hard way. You live, you learn!