In Wildness is the preservation of the World. -Henry David Thoreau
When I saw that quote, I felt it in my bones. So often, my heart cries for the wild, to be out among the trees and splashing in streams. But while that sense of adventure sustains my soul, it’s not what my business needs to succeed. And that, my friends, is one of the major obstacles for us creative brain types.
Success as a photographer requires a few things. First, you must be willing and able to embrace your artistic nature, to work on your skills and to learn from critiques. Second, you need to suppress your artistic nature and embrace the ideas of organization, planning and structure. And finally…throw in a dash of drive, perseverance and belief in your worth to round out your business plan. Afterall, the qualities needed to hike 10 miles over two days in bad weather, to endure physical discomfort and to stay focused (all of which happened to get the above image) are the same qualities that will allow you to keep your eyes forward, looking to your next goal or milestone even when you run into problems, mistakes and failed attempts.
Alright, lets explore these ideas, shall we?
1) Define your success:
The first step to success is to define what success means to you. If your aspirations stop at “making some money doing what you love”, then so be it. If you plan on reaching for the stars, well, I applaud you…set attainable goals for yourself and build on each baby step. I promise you, no matter what path you choose, there will be many people that will question your methods, your pricing and your judgment. Ultimately, it’s up to you to sort out the useful suggestions from the criticisms that will pull you away from your dreams (while trying to shove you into someone else’s definition of success).
2) Remember your roots:
You got into <insert your art genre here> for a reason, right? The willingness to create is a wonderful thing, and isn’t to be taken lightly. Having a creative outlet can enrich your life in so many ways, and remembering why you do what you do can help sustain you when times are tough. You will make mistakes, and it will suck. Remember, that’s part of the learning process. Don’t let too much pride or a stubborn nature become another obstacle to your success. It’s not easy to open your eyes and ears to useful critiques (key word being useful…see #1) and grow based on that feedback. But grow you must if you’re looking to stand out in a heavily saturated market.
3) Invest in yourself:
Growth can’t happen without effort on your part. Find a workshop you can afford and attend it. Watch youtube videos on the latest editing technique. Read blog posts and tutorials on how to achieve what you want to achieve. Study up on the newest whatever it is…giant ring light, light painting, luminosity masks…etc. There will always be more to learn, and making the effort to do so will show in the quality of your work. That is important because without a solid portfolio and understanding of what you bring to the table, it’s very difficult to understand your worth and sell yourself to a client.
4) Be thoughtful and organized:
The difference between having a dream and having a goal is planning. A dream is a nebulous half formed idea that you hope will happen to you someday. A goal is something you work towards, step by laborious step, until you’ve achieved and moved on to the next goal. To reach those milestones, you need plans. And lists. And a calendar. And lots and lots of sticky notes.
For example, yesterday’s to-do included…
~ Between 10-11 am = promote blog tour project on Twitter, business Facebook page and in a Facebook group. On twitter, use link to blog tour page.
~ 3ish pm = Twitter post attaching blog tour photo to catch people’s eye
~ Between 4-5pm = post blog tour image on Instagram, tag someone likely to re-share. Link Instagram to personal Facebook page so friends and family see to post
~ write out tomorrow’s blog, set release between 10-11
~ plan tomorrow’s promo… market on wordpress, link new blog to a Facebook group (landscapes, nature, etc), #tbt on personal page with old trip/image to promote
~Monday post newest blog shot to 500px, pinterest, and 500px Facebook group at 8a, 10a or 4-5p
~Next Tuesday, post about art hanging at Francesca’s restaurant in Canton, CT. Tag them on FB to increase views.
5) Invest your time and resources wisely:
So…why do I choose to post on social medias around 8a, 10a or between 4-5p? Because our generation checks their phones and social medias before they go to work, when their attention starts to wander at work and they need a coffee break, and then as soon as they get out of work but before they are home and start the routine of picking up children, cooking dinner, doing homework, etc. Posting at times when my target market won’t see what I have to offer is a waste of time. Furthermore, I’ve read that some social medias track people who spam their feeds and write them out of the algorithms. No idea if that’s true, but it helps ease my conscience about not posting non-stop. haha
Why do I choose not to post on Fridays? In my experience, unless you’re posting early, you won’t get much feedback. Once 5pm hits, people are focused on their weekend plans, not what pretty picture you have to offer that day. If I do post, it’s generally a fluff post or a personal post. And yes, those personal posts are also work. Your market wants more than just a nameless, faceless artist in their feed. Art is an emotional experience and you want people to invest in you so they eventually invest in your art.
Are you starting to see what I mean about investing wisely? It’s not just financial advice. Keep track of what does and doesn’t bring you results. Cull the useless stuff, be consistent about the stuff that works and be on the look out for new ways to put yourself out there.
6) Be bold. Be personable.:
As I said, personality counts here. If you have two photographers of equal skill to work with, and one of them is an arrogant jerk, or a socially awkward weirdo, or completely aloof, disorganized and/or never returns your emails and phone calls… while the other is funny, nice, tries to please the customer, communicates well and in a timely fashion…. Well, I know who I’d choose.
You can NEVER have too many people in your corner. Make friends. Network. Enjoy your peers…it’s part of the ride.
Often times, you are selling yourself as much as you are selling your vision and creations. Be bold. Introduce yourself. Ask how you can become a part of their team. Take chances. Run a class or a workshop. Build your resume. Believe in what you have to offer. And remember, price yourself accordingly.
7) This is a business, remember?:
Believe in your work. You have spent countless hours studying youtube videos and attending lighting seminars. You have dropped thousands of dollars on equipment, insurance, travel, etc…remember those expenditure sheets you fill out during tax season? They hurt to look at, don’t they. You have invested in yourself so that, in the end, you can get paid for your work.
For most new entrepreneurs, the goal is simply to cover your costs as you build a portfolio and your skill sets. You will read a million blog posts about not giving away your work for free, about undervaluing yourself and the effect that has on the market, about how you paint yourself into a corner when you charge less than other professionals think you should…and I’m not going to say they are wrong. There is evidence to support all of what you’ve read. But everyone has to start somewhere, and I’m not going to judge you for charging an amount appropriate to your skill level. What I will do, though, is encourage you to grow your rates as you grow your skill.
Yes, chances are you will lose clients who are used to paying the lesser rate. But as you lose them, you will be gaining a new market. Don’t be afraid to ask for more money if your skills and experiences can support what you’re asking. Because…did I mention this is a business? (Or, at the very least, an expensive hobby that you can convince others to help support? lol) Time is money and you should be compensated for yours.
I have news for you. You’re probably not good at everything all of the time. How can you be? To really learn and focus on every aspect and genre within your art would require infinite amounts of time, talent and resources, which most people simply don’t have. When you think of it in those terms, it seems unrealistic to expect to really that you will excel as a fashion photographer, landscape photographer, newborn photographer, astrophotographer and live concert photographer. More likely, if you see one person offering workshops in all of those areas, they are excellent at one or two and passable at the rest. (I will admit, there are a few people who are truly gifted and do well in multiple specialties…I can think of one guy off the top of my head who has his hands in a lot of pots and always makes quality images…but that kind of talent is rare.)
So, rather than make passable images that blend into the crowd of a million other passable images, find your thing and shine. For example…I am primarily a landscape kind of gal. If you’ve looked at my portfolio, you know this. I am also a wedding photographer whose skills run to details shots, seeing bigger picture shot set-ups, organization, and couples portraits. My second is an amazing candid photographer…I am not. I know this, so for the most part, I rely on her for those shots and for her ability to manage the crowd and make children laugh for their portraits.
I am, speaking of, also 150% NOT a newborn shoot kind of gal and I’m okay with that. (I’m afraid I’ll break them!) But my second shooter…well…she just loves every part of newborn shoots and it shows in her work. When we pick up a baby shoot, I don’t even bring my camera. I’ll just hold the reflectors and hand her some props, thank you very much.
I know my skills sets and while I work to improve the rest of what I lack, I don’t expect to specialize in everything. And again…I’ve come to terms with it.
Yeah yeah, contradictory, I know. But really, what I mean is diversify your income streams. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Put on clinics. Sell your prints. Get hired for events. Have an online store where you sell pillows and how-to-photography books. If one source of revenue dries up, at least you won’t be claiming bankruptcy.
10) Be grateful:
Your attitude about life affects everything about your life. Have goals, work hard but remember to appreciate how far you’ve already come or you will drown in a sea of negatives….all of the goals you haven’t met yet, the missteps along the way, the measuring yourself against other artists, etc. Gratitude will go a long way towards giving you perspective and keeping you humble (and personable!)
and finally…the bonus…
11) You are you. Don’t try to be someone else.:
At some point in our careers, we all mimic another person’s style because we admire their work or we envy their success…or some reason in between that I haven’t thought of. That is a normal step in developing your own “signature thing”. The key is to be conscious of it and try not to linger in someone else’s footprint for too long. You will never be them and comparing yourself to them and their success is a dangerous path leading to a downward spiral. Instead of chastising yourself for not doing what someone else does to the degree that they do it, recognize what it is about their style that you like and then incorporate it into your work, putting your own twist on it, making it your own. Then, people can look at your stuff and wonder, “How did he/she do that?? It’s awesome!”
So, there you go. 11 tips to help get your business mind right. It’s not a complete list…and if I put my mind to it, I might be able to think of more…but then, what would I write about in future blog posts? haha It’s also, most definitely, not the only way of doing things but it does highlight a lot of the lessons I’ve learned based on my experiences. There is no substitute for your own personal experiences, but maybe, just maybe you’ll find something on this list that will help you grow your passion too. :-)
Oh…and as for the photo at the top? You know…that pretty little header to lead off all of these tips? That is a view of Tuckerman’s from Hermit Lake on Mount Washington. It was a dark and stormy weekend all around, but every now and again, the clouds would break and the sun would light our way. :-)