February 5, 2014

What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Business

While reading an article on Rock’n Roll Bride yesterday titled “What I wish I’d Known When I Started My Business,” I started to form my own list in my head. I decided to post some of it below.

My Beginnings

In 2009, in the midst of the economy collapsing around us, unemployment knocked me off my feet. After months of searching, slightly sad that a college degree hadn’t brought me to a better place, I decided to rely less on the job market and to instead forge my own path. I decided to pursue a dream that I had since I was much younger. I dusted off my camera, and cautiously entered the field.

At first, although I had been a photography major, I didn’t want to call myself a “photographer.” I shot engagements here and there. I never meant to pursue shooting weddings as soon as I did, but I’m glad fear didn’t keep me from shooting my first one.

After creating a Facebook page and shooting my first wedding, inquiries came rolling in. I was excited to turn my dream of being a photographer, which I’d dreamed of since I was 9, into reality. I had one big problem though, I didn’t know how to REALLY run a photography business. In 2010, I shot 14 weddings, and after one crazy summer I thought, “Wow, this really happening.”

In 2011, I decided to be much more serious about my business. There are so many things I wish I would have known then. I was shooting the amount of weddings I wanted to shoot in a year, with AMAZING couples, but there is so much more to a photography business than just “the amount of weddings you shoot in a year.”

(My Love List) My List of Important Things To Know When Starting Your Business

Skill is so important when approaching something like wedding photography, but to keep a business going, you need to keep these things in mind.

1. I wish someone would have told me the importance of networking.

I didn’t start networking until 2 years ago, and it has completely transformed my business.  We’ve had so many opportunities that have given us the confidence to publish our work, and we even had the opportunity to shoot the cover of a magazine.  I keep imagining, if I would have just started networking at the beginning, imagine where my business could be now!

Why it’s important:  If you approach wedding photography (or anything for that matter) as separate from the industry, you are making a huge mistake. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” rings very true in the real world. I’m not saying you should approach networking as “what can I get from this,” but I am saying that no one will recommend you if they have a. never worked with you and/or b. never heard of you. The best way to work with someone is getting to know them and maybe later having the privilege of being recommended by them. If you work with them, say hi! Being friendly goes much further than being unapproachable.  Recommendations from vendors are highly valued by couples. They already trust their venue/makeup artist/florist, so they’ll trust that vendor’s opinion about you. It’s important.

Tip: Don’t go to networking events to talk about yourself. It’s rude. Get to know people and remember names! I’ve met a few people multiple times, and they’ve introduced themselves as if we’ve never met. It’s off-putting. If you’re going to walk around the room, talking about yourself and passing out cards, then don’t be surprised when you don’t get any referrals. If you have trouble remembering names, plan on going to the event to talk to just 1-3 people.

2. I wish I would have known that I should hire an accountant.

Just do it. Unless you are super good with organizing numbers and keeping track of things every week, hire an accountant to do it. It’s completely worth the money. The first year I did my own taxes. 28 hours later, after organizing all my files and crying (exaggeration), I finally finished them. The next year I paid $170 to have an accountant take care of it for me. It was worth every cent and probably a lot more.

Also, pay your taxes quarterly. The winter is the hardest time to be a wedding photographer in the midwest. Having to pay thousands of dollars after a money drought is very difficult, unless you are really good at setting aside money and not touching it.

3. I wish I would have established my brand sooner.

After years of switching my logo, my website, and my blog, I now realize I should have saved myself the time and money and just hired a professional to help me with this. Not only would my brand match, look professional, and reach the type of clients I wanted, I would have saved hundreds of hours! I could have put that into improving my craft, submitting work to publications, or networking.

Tip: Your brand is you. The easiest thing for me to do was look in my closet and see what colors I love: Navy blue & grey. Make a list of products, interiors, other websites, and things you like (you could make a Pinterest board to do it easily). It will help a designer create the perfect look for you. How can you hate a design that’s heavily influenced by what you love?

4. I wish I would have known that shooting photos is only 10% of the business.

You become a photographer to be a photographer, right? Well, that’s not true when you’re running a photography business. Now I’m okay with this, and I would have been okay with it when I started shooting for money, but in 2010 I put too much emphasis on the skill (and website) and not enough on the business. I wish I would have focused on a client experience, networking, accounting, record keeping, and storage solutions (you know, the logistics of running an actual business) as much as I did on the skill of photography.

5. I wish I would have let myself say no, and that I knew when to say yes.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Especially if you really don’t want the work. Several times I’ve bent over backwards for someone when everything about the situation told me not to do it, and as a result I came out of the situation with nothing positive. I was only left with regret.

 At the same time, I lost business that I wanted. This shouldn’t make you feel like you should do work for free. Most of the time, work shouldn’t be done for free, but I wish I would have been more flexible at times. I lost a wedding that I, to this day, wish I could have shot. I don’t wish I could have shot it because of the money, but because of how much fun it would have been to shoot it. If there is a job you really want then set your limits, but be willing to be flexible. This is not an open invitation for people to constantly bargain with you. I’m not afraid to tell someone I don’t want to shoot their wedding, but don’t be so stubborn that you lose work you really want.

Disclaimer: Brides, if you really want to work with a photographer, be willing to take them at cost. Bargaining can really turn a photographer off, and they might turn you away as a client. Most established photographers aren’t desperate for work. The photographer might offer you a deal, but don’t ask for one.

6. I wish I knew I didn’t have to be perfect to…

Start a business, network, publish my work, pursue work I wanted, make a sample book of my work, launch my work publicly, work with higher end venues….

The list could be much longer! I let the fear of not being the best keep me from getting better. That fear has been chipped away. The fear of failing is no longer holding me back, which has made my business much more successful than when I played it safe.

Being fearless can sometimes be reckless (don’t be stupid), but don’t be afraid to do the things you know are going to make your business better. Whatever you imagine your business to be in 3-5 years, start pursuing that now.

Some of this might ring true for other photographers as well. This is my personal experience. I think realizing these things has helped me build my business to grow to where it is now. For me, the love of my job is a huge drive for me to continue to build my business. Success rarely has much to do with numbers to those who truly love their career.

I hope that you can take these things into consideration and apply them to your business plan. It could really take your business to another level.

My last bit of advice is to be patient. Things don’t happen over night. As Jon Acuff wrote on michaelhyatt.com, “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”  Actually, don’t spend much time comparing your business to any other business at all. This will save you from a lot of unneeded anxiety.

All the best to the business owners out there,


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