Some days (most days) I wish I could go back to when I started my legit business. Not to the day I picked up my camera, but the day I went full time, got my license (because guys that is super important!) and decided to really become a photographer. The day I decided to say outloud to people when they asked me what I do and say “I’m Brooke… I’m a photographer!” I wish I could write myself a letter and tell myself all of these things I have learned since then because WOW I wonder where I would be!
But… even if I could go back, I probably wouldn’t! Even if I could go back and tell myself all these things (aside from being super weirded out to meet and talk to my future self) I probably wouldn’t listen. I would probably make the same mistakes over and over again.
You see, I am an experience based learner. I learn best by experiencing things on my own terms! I can say this because guess what friends… these 5 little tips that I desperately wish I could have told myself back then are things that I am still working on implementing and learning and trying to grow! These are things that my mentors are still driving in to this head of mine!
That’s the best and worst part about owning your own business: as your business grows, so will you and so will your need to adapt and change everything you implement! You will always have to keep one finger on the pulse of the scope of your empire! I say empire and I laugh (out loud in a maniacal way) but it’s true! There are so many moving parts in a small business that there are days even the smallest business can feel like an empire!
Still though, there are 5 little things I wish I could have known back then so that maybe I could have started to work on them sooner. Things that I have learned through the love of mentors and friends that have lifted me up when I have wanted to quit. Things that my dear sweet husband has told me repeatedly like a broken record (bless his sweet heart). Things that have cost me some precious time. No one wants to make the same mistakes over and over again.
If this sounds like you… read on!
(Photo ^ by the amazing Hope Taylor photography for the March 2015 Creative @ Heart Conference)
1. Your Time Is Valuable! Repeat this over and over again until it really sinks in. I have to do this on a daily basis because I still struggle with this! Your time is so incredibly valuable. It doesn’t matter if you are just starting your business or your are a seasoned veteran, your time is valuable! There will be times when you might feel anxious or self conscious about putting a price on that time, but repeat that phrase and try to remember why you are choosing to do this! I struggle with this on a deep, deep level to this very day! I always feel like for some reason I am “taking” something away from my clients by asking them to pay me for capturing their family memories. I needed to switch my thinking and I think Amanda Hedgepeth does this so well. She is grateful to all her clients because they are supporting a small business and by doing so fulfilling a little girls dream to take ballet! How amazing is that?! Mary Marantz challenges you to think about who sacrificed for you in order for you to live out your dream and do this job? Who are you sacrificing for to DO this job? My hubs and my son are two of the most important people in my life! Every time I step out that door, I have to think of them. Who are YOU sacrificing for?
Your time is precious and it is valuable no matter where you are in your business!
2. Branding and Online Presence DOES make a difference. I’m not just talking about a nice logo and color palettes here, I’m talking about a clear, simple and personal representation of who YOU are and the heart behind your business. No one wants to show up to the party late and I completely did. I didn’t believe that having a website or a matching facebook page would matter or help attract the right clients to my door. I was so completely wrong! Take the time to do this RIGHT and believe in it because for the majority of your clients, this will be their first impression of you and you want them to have it right! When you are looking for a service where is the first place you look? Google am I right?! That’s what I do! If I want more information about someone or something, especially a local business I search google. If they don’t have a web page that I can browse I automatically become disinterested. If it’s a photographer, I’m out automatically! I want to see their work, I want to see WHO THEY ARE from what their website looks like and especially their blog! I want to get to know them!
Take this seriously and brand with someone who will really take the time to get to know YOU and YOUR BUSINESS! Branding is about so much more than just a logo and colors. You want your audience to feel your purpose, your story and your heart behind your business the second that web page or blog opens. You want them to totally get YOU. If they can get behind you and they believe in your purpose, they will be your cheerleader and help you grow your business!
3. Organize your life & Create a Work Flow. Organization is KEY! I love organization and I would usually consider myself an organized person, except if you would come into my house on any given day and look at my desk you would totally disagree. My business used to be totally disorganized! A disorganized business equals bad quality of service and care for your clients! Who wants that?! It’s so incredibly important from the beginning to create a system and set of work flows that will help you organize and run your business with efficiency! Create yourself a series of checks and balances. There are so many great ways to do this and so many amazing people have blogged about just this topic. I’m just NOW finding a system that works for me.
I’m a paper and pencil kind of girl so at first having a paper planner was amazing! I could write down all my sessions and that was all I needed. I uploaded all my contracts through Hello Sign and I had a system that stored my contracts there. Boom that was great! Pay pal kept all my transactions and I was set… except all of that together became a lot of little systems that we had to constantly keep up with by referring to e mails and I was constantly getting confused! I tried a file system… then the dog ate it! Seriously, she did! Also the filing cabinet became a storage space for anything I did’t want Linc to color on. Are you getting my drift, sometimes what you think will work because it always has for other things just might not work for your business.
Enter 17 Hats! I’m in my free trial at the moment and so far I’m loving it! All my little systems are together in one online spot and I have to say, it’s kind of nice!
Moral of the story… find a system that works for you and create that system for EACH CLIENT! Make sure nothing and no one falls through the cracks. You have to make sure that your services are consistent each and every time. This comes from perfect organization!
4. Financial Budgeting and Systems. This is a topic no one really likes to talk about but it’s so incredibly important! I wish someone had told me that in the first two or three years of your photography business there is a good chance you won’t turn over a huge profit. In fact, most of your money if you aren’t going to use a loan or credit of any kind, will go straight back into your business! Don’t let this get you down friends, instead jump for joy and have a cupcake!
If you can rock out your business and purchase all your equipment with your business income that’s pretty darn great! Photography equipment is crazy expensive, but it’s not going to be that way forever! Work with what you have, make the most of the prime lenses that you have in your bag right now and continue to work your sessions towards the ones you want! Getting to know your equipment inside and out is the best thing you can do for your business, so work it! Don’t worry about what other’s have, focus on what YOU have! I never rented a single lens. I used what I had and I made it work for me! It all worked out and that money I would have put into renting equipment was put towards owning it instead!
Set up a budgeting system! Dave Ramsey has some amazing resources out there when it comes to money! The hubs and I are working on some of his techniques right now for both our home and the business. The best advice I can offer for your business is to open a business account! Get yourself a business card and ONLY use it for business transactions. At the end of your first month review it and take a look at where your spending is going! Create a budget for certain areas of your business and then decide where you want your money to work for you! YES, make your money WORK FOR YOU, every single dollar. GIVE IT A JOB… that’s what Dave Ramsey says. Don’t let a single penny have it’s freedom! Give it a place!
Right now I have post its placed around the office of where I need my money to go because I’m working towards some really big projects. It’s a daily reminder for me that my money already has a job, that I need to book sessions and my time is valuable!
Yes it’s funny when you come to my house because my office is the first thing you see, and yep you see the post it’s with numbers on them! BUT that also means it’s the first thing I see when I wake up and walk downstairs and it’s the last thing I see before heading up to bed at night. I’m making my money WORK FOR ME! *I also put myself on a spending freeze… yuck*
5. You are not alone and you can not do this alone! You need to seek out your biggest supporters and do that THIS INSTANCE! There are going to be times (many times) where you want to give up. There are going to be times when you feel burnt out! There are going to be times when the heavy weight of disappointment, competitive, “I could do better”, “she’s better” “but that was my idea” are going to come and press down on you! It happens in the creative world and that is what makes us all human! It’s also why we need to realize, right now, that we need encouragers in our corner to help us remember why we do this! We need our loved ones to lift us back up! It’s so incredibly important that I can’t stress it enough! It’s not only important to have our loved ones on board and understand our purpose behind what we do and our love for it; it’s also important to have peers and friends in the industry who also understand and can support us! We need to find a community that we can belong to and serve! Join in with the many shoot and share groups in your area. Find at least one solid friend that you can truly connect with and have each other’s back!
5.5: Yes I know but it does go along with the above!! Find someone who has your back BUT offers you constructive criticism! Don’t be afraid of this! You need to be critiqued in order to grow, especially in photography! Find someone who YOU truly respect, someone who has a style that YOU admire and find similar to your own (or where you would like to be). See if they might be willing to sit down with you and critique your work or offer some advice and pointers. Make sure this person will come from a place of encouragement but also a place of honesty! It’s fantastic to have your cheerleaders, but if you always live in that world, it will stunt your growth! Trust me… this was my first few years as a photographer! It wasn’t until I gained enough courage to sit down with Andi Grant, took a breath and actually heard all the fantastic stuff she had to say that I saw a difference in the quality of my work! I started to GO somewhere and I started to bring my images to life! Find someone who will be honest in a positive way and go through your images with one by one. See if they will look at the RAW files and teach you about your lighting, your exposure, your white balance etc. Take notes while they speak and really listen to what they have to say! Then, in return, see if there is something YOU can do to serve them that might help you learn as well!
At the end of the day when it’s really tough, just remember, this comes from your heart! If you come from a place of heart and a place of serving others, you will find that you can find a way to get back to your joy and purpose once again!
Owning your own business is an amazing feeling! It’s also a million other feelings all wrapped up in that amazing ball but at the end of the day, you are doing something that comes straight from your heart! Remember that friends! No matter what happens, you are doing something with your whole heart, so win, lose or draw ( best game ever) there is no failure when there is love involved!
I wish I knew all these little tips years ago, but I’m so proud of where I am in my business today because I have had what Kat from dear sweetheart events call “sweet starts”. I’m always molding and shaping my business and will always be growing it as my heart grows for those that I serve and love.
Don’t be afraid to step out there and follow your heart friends… the only way you will ever “mess up”, “fall down” or ” fail” is if you never take that first step. Fear succeeds at keeping us stuck… don’t be stuck!