Since starting my photography business back in 2010, I’ve made a few mistakes.
Ok, more than a few.
But rather than letting the mishaps, slip-ups and speed humps slow me down on my business journey, I’ve chosen instead to embrace the challenges and see them as valuable lessons both in my business, and in life.
I’ve built a successful 6-figure business that supports my family and gives me the freedom and flexibility to live a life on my own terms – and what a gift that is.
But the best part – all those hard won lessons have given me the foundations, expertise and confidence to guide other photographers on their business journey and help them avoid the same mistakes I made.
Through my 1:1 mentoring and coaching services they get to benefit from all the lessons I’ve learnt – only they’re reaching their goals in half the time!
So what do I wish someone had told me in my first year?
Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned:
Lesson #1: you better be ready to work for it – it’s not easy
As the saying goes: being your own boss is great; you get to choose which 18 hours a day you work!
Calling the shots, working your own hours and choosing the clients you work with all sounds pretty awesome – and it can be. But no one tells you just how much blood, sweat and tears you have to put into your business to make it work.
In the beginning, it’ll likely just be you doing everything, including the accounts, marketing, cleaning, and a bajillion other seemingly endless tasks completely unrelated to photography – and that can get mentally and physically exhausting.
Using contract labor is the way to go. Hiring a retouch artist, bookkeeper, and anyone else that can help reduce your workload will not only save you time it’ll allow you to get all the important tasks done without having to manage other people’s schedules or deal with the drama (and trust me, there’s always drama).
Sure, hiring contractors is an additional expense, but outsourcing some of your workload will help you get on top of the stuff that matters most, you know, the stuff that makes you money – like finding new clients, working on your photography, and selling it so you can pay the bills.
If you are lucky enough to have a ton of start up capital, and you’re in a position to hire people, then great – go for it! But be warned, employees bring with them higher expenses, more drama and a whole lot of paperwork.
Lesson #2: Set yourself up for success from day one
Before you decide to flip the ‘open’ sign around and start booking clients, make sure you’ve taken the time to get your business set up right.
The list is long and you may need some advice to suit your specific circumstances, but here are just some of the key things you need to have in place before you begin:
- The right business structure (sole proprietor, s-corp, LLC, etc).
- A separate business banking account
- A good CPA to help with taxes
- A solid pricing structure from day one
Before I opened my studio I did a ton of research to make sure everything was set up properly. I made the decision very early on to price my services mid to high end because I knew I had to make a certain amount of money in order to have a healthy, sustainable business.
It’s tempting to simply grab prices out of the air based on nothing, and start charging clients. But without a solid pricing strategy in place you’re basically flying blind, and no matter how hard you try, wishful thinking alone wont make your business profitable or successful.
That’s why the first thing I do with my private coaching clients is to help them create a budget and a plan moving forward in their business. Getting super clear on the numbers right from the start will not only help you plan for expenses, it’ll help you price your work for actual profits.
Lesson #3: You don’t need to lease a studio to gain credibility
I opened my studio initially because I thought I needed a storefront for people to take me seriously. The leased space felt professional and, I guess, gave my business some semblance of credibility, but it also brought with it some serious overheads. With only a few clients on my books cash flow was a huge problem.
After two years of leasing a space, I made the decision to move to a home studio, but I did worry what my clients would think. I worried they’d think I wasn’t a legit business, or that I might be too expensive.
But, I decided to move anyway, and, you know what? No one even cared!
I was now working out of the comfort of my own home studio, I’d cut my overheads by half and my profit margin increased by more than 60%.
It doesn’t matter if you work from an expensive studio space, or out of your garage, if you’re delivering a quality product with amazing customer service your clients will keep coming back – and they’ll tell all their friends.
If you do work from home here’s a little tip to help you manage your finances…
Make sure you accrue your rent checks when you write them versus just looking at your bank account. That way you know how much money you have in your account versus thinking you’re doing awesome and then having your landlord deposit six rent checks at the same time… I learnt that lesson the hard way!
Lesson #4: Be careful when investing in marketing/advertising
My first year in business, I poured a lot of money into advertising and marketing activities that I thought I needed. I didn’t even realize how much money I was burning through until I saw just how little I was keeping as profit.
When I took a good look at the books, I realized I was spending close to 28% of my total expenses just on advertising – with little to no return! That’s a huge chunk of expenses going out without bringing in much business. Not to mention that it was more than double what I should have been spending.
I made big mistakes with print advertising by getting locked into long-term contracts that gave me small ads amongst tons of other competing photographers. I threw money at paid online advertising through Google Adwords, Yelp, and other groups that all came with long term contracts, empty promises, and hefty price tags.
There are so many other more effective and less expensive (even free) options for getting the word out there including blogging consistently, posting regularly on social media, sending press releases, cross promotions with business that serve the same clientele, and simply pounding the pavement to talk to people. I cover all of these in a lot more detail in my Brand Brilliantly program.
The biggest lesson here is to conserve your money and cut expenses as much as you can the first year. Especially if you have any loans you need to pay down.
Lesson #5: Never discount your work to attract new clients
When you’re just starting out, listening to crickets all day and watching tumbleweeds roll through your studio, it can be tempting to offer discounts or run a Groupon type deal to get clients in the door.
But here’s what I think about that: don’t do it!
Running a sale or discounting your work for no reason devalues your work and attracts the wrong type of clientele.
Yes, you’ll get some folks in the door, but those who come to you purely looking for a cheap deal wont be invested in the process and will be less likely to refer you on to their friends and family.
Your main focus should be on building a clientele that values what you do and is willing to pay you for it.
In my Brand Brilliantly program I show you how to set your prices, create desirable products, and how to attract the right clients – you know, the people that make ‘work’ feel like fun. Nailing all of these elements is key to achieving success (and longevity) in any business.
Sure, it takes a lot of work up front to attract that perfect client, but trust me, the payoff is well worth it.
My advice: wish the deal seekers well, then get on with running a sustainable, successful business that actually makes you a profit.
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There are so many things you learn in your first year of business – and all the years after that! I made a ton of mistakes along the way, but each one has taught me a lesson that has helped me improve my business tenfold.
I hope you found this information useful and if you did I’d love you to share it with your friends.
Now, I want to hear from you – what have been your biggest lessons so far in business? Leave me a message in the comments below!