No one is perfect and when it comes to entrepreneurship, anyone who tells you they were successful right out of the gate with no hiccups is just plain lying. Entrepreneurship is a tough road to take but for those of us who feel called to it, it is the only road. It's a road full of potholes, sharp turns, and blind spots but it is a road nonetheless!
Today, I want to share my top ten mistakes I made when I just started out in hopes that someone may stumble across this and hopefully save some time - and headaches!! This has been quite the journey so far and though I am far from where I want to be, I have worked hard to get where I am and I am proud to be here! The road has not ended yet but it is smoothing out, thank goodness!
So here we go: my top ten mistakes I made as a bright eyed and bushy tailed photographer:
Guys... I started editing in Windows Photo Gallery. No joke. And my method? Increase contrast. To 100%. That's it - the image is perfect and ready for delivery!
But hey, we all start somewhere, right?
Then, once I finally realized my limitations I graduated to Photobucket.com... and I'm not even sure if that's better or worse!
I worked tirelessly on my laptop editing photos online through Photobucket.com and then had the nerve to deliver those images to my clients. And, not to mention, I would deliver galleries with 100+ images on a CD! What insanity is this!?
When I started, I had absolutely no money and the thought of purchasing Photoshop made me sick (this was before the Creative Cloud plan was an option and the software cost about $600 - without updating... ever), especially since I had never even seen it in action. I once visited a friend's house who owned it and when they opened it, I was immediately overwhelmed b y all of the icons, panels, and menu options and I vowed to never have to deal with it.
Seriously... if you're going to be a digital photographer, just learn Photoshop. Just go in and do it. Nowadays, there are countless FREE tutorials all over the internet and pair that with the Creative Cloud plan and you are all set! Learning on your own is so much easier now than it was when I got started - there is really no excuse not to learn to edit properly. Adobe is a great company and I love their products but they are not the only ones making high quality photo editing software so take your time researching softwares, try out a few trials, and go with one that fits your budget and your needs!
Let me be clear: creative names work for some - and WELL! Whether you name your business after yourself or you choose to go a more creative route, as long as you remain true to yourself and your branding, your name will be just fine. However, I wouldn't spend more time than needed on it. If it's taking too long to come up with a name that stands out and is memorable, naming it after yourself may be the best method for you! I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to come up with a name and while I am pretty stinking proud of the name I came up with (Loud Sights Photography), I would do things differently if I could go back.
Loud Sights Photography is a pretty cool name for a photographer BUT it was also confusing. People often called it "Loud Sounds" or some variation of Loud Sights which is a big problem if the people trying to remember it are using Google to find your site. If they can't remember your business name, a Google search is not going to show your site to them and that right there is a lost client.
When I rebranded in 2017 and chose the name Brittany Lynn Imagery, I also changed my social media names to Brittany Lynn so that it would be easy to remember when trying to find my work online. This also made it easier to incorporate myself into my own brand, simplifying things all around for both myself and my clients!
Again, I'm not saying that a creative business name won't work - it can and will if you do it right! There are plenty of successful photographers working under creative names and the same can be said for almost every industry. Just don't spend too much time on it and be sure that it is doing you and your business a favor, not a disservice.
I may primarily be a natural light photographer but I do know one thing: to be a better natural light photographer, you will greatly benefit from learning artificial lighting.
When you work with artificial lighting, you learn to truly look for light. You learn its behaviors, you learn to manipulate it, and you can literally paint with it. At its core, photography is about capturing light. Basically, when you learn to control light, you also learn to work with it generally.
Another bonus to learning artificial lighting techniques is that your work will be consistent across all shooting situations and lighting conditions. If you do it right, you can use artificial light to mimic natural light and then you are no longer limited to shooting at specific times of day or locations.
Learning artificial lighting is the most liberating move I have taken as a professional photographer and get this: I JUST now did it! I'm still new to it but I already have a different relationship with light as I understand it on a deeper, almost scientific or mathematical level and while art is subjective, numbers are not.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being a natural light photographer without the slightest clue how to incorporate artificial light. There are SO MANY amazing artists out there working with natural light only and their work is absolutely STUNNING! I just feel like my personal relationship with lighting has truly blossomed now that I have been learning how to properly use artificial light and I feel much more confident in my work, regardless of what lighting techniques I use.
I think it's also worth mentioning again that the Golden Hour limitation is gone and let me tell you - that is a huge relief! I LOVE Golden Hour - always have and always will!! - but to only be able to shoot at this time of day for consistent results was no longer sustainable for my business and something had to change! Learning artificial lighting techniques has opened up my shooting abilities to literally any time of day! THAT is exciting!!
Can we drive to x location, 50 miles away?
Can we break up our session and do 20 minutes here and then 40 minutes at a different location?
I still can't believe all of the odd things I agreed to do for clients in the beginning. I was so worried about having clients that I wasn't making sure I was making money and being compensated for my time, my equipment, and my knowledge. At the end of most sessions, I had basically spent money to be there and it all comes down to one thing: I wouldn't tell people no.
I have a habit of being empathetic to a fault sometimes and that's exactly what this was. I knew that my clients may not understand why I would have to charge a travel fee for certain locations so I just didn't charge one. I also knew that they may have a hard time understanding why I wanted all of my sessions to be shot contiguously so I just let them break it up however they wanted. And here's the thing I want to stress: I know wholeheartedly that I never once dealt with someone that had the intention of hurting my business or taking advantage of me. A lot of this stems from pure ignorance in the literal sense. But honestly, you can't fight ignorance without a backbone. You have to be able to explain why you charge what you charge and why you conduct business the way you do. If you can't, something needs to change.
For me, I had to become confident in the way I did my business and I had to accept that fact that it is okay to lost a potential client if they don't like the way you do things because it's only going to turn out badly. I learned to confidently communicate my approach to photography and to understand that a lost booking is not personal. More importantly, I had to learn to ask for money in exchange for my work when I was asked to do more than what is already included.
Confidence, confidence, confidence!
Again, I had to learn to ask for money when I had earned it. Putting a price on my time was intimidating to me in the beginning, especially when it came to working with friends and family. And it's still weird sometimes but I just have to look past that because running my business isn't free, therefore my services should not be free.
Here's the thing: if you're starting a business, you probably have the goal of providing for yourself, yeah? And you can't provide for yourself without money. Obviously.
Learning to say "How will you be paying today?" was a game-changer for me. Learning how much to charge was a totally different beast but that also made a world of a difference in my business as well as my personal life.
Now, make no mistake: when you're learning, you do it for free. Heck, sometimes you even pay to work (models, shadowing another professional, etc.). And you SHOULD. You have to do it for free first because when you practice on paying clients, you are setting yourself up for failure - and a lawsuit. Practicing on paying clients is a huge no-no professionally and morally but if you are working, you need to be charging. Plain and simple.
Build up your portfolio with free sessions, get to a point where your work is consistent and predictable, and then set a price and charge it universally. Discounts are fine as long as you are still making enough money to stay open but also realize that offering too many discounts without any rhyme or reason is unfair to your clients who are paying full price. Always be sure that you are offering discounts that don't lower the value of your full-price clients' experience and while charging more so that you can offer a discount to make things seem less expensive than they are is technically okay, it's not the most honest practice.
I have always been a very self-sufficient person and when I first started, I was hellbent on learning everything myself. I felt like I had a good eye and I was under the impression that if I just learned my equipment and perfected my compositions, I would be on the fast track to riches.
I know, I laugh at it now too!
The thing is, having a good eye is just the beginning. Running a successful business is so much more than just knowing your art - you have to know your art AND marketing, accounting, communications, and so so much more and it isn't all intuitive. If you're going to run a successful business, you're going to have to invest in some type of education whether that investment is financial or trading services. Once I took the leap and started investing in my education, my success took an exponential leap. And now, I am constantly investing in my education in various ways - classes, webinars, styled shoots, and more! I feel like anyone who is successful without investing anything at all into education is definitely the exception, not the rule. You can try it but I'm telling you now, it will be so much easier if you just make the choice to invest. Afterall, if you won't even invest in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to invest in you?
Y'all - when I saw what I thought was a good deal, I went with it. "Buy it now, learn it later" was my approach and it cost me THOUSANDS of unnecessary dollars. No joke - thousands. I was left with lots of subpar equipment and no idea what to really do with it and that is not sustainable. In fact, it is detrimental.
Another point: just because you know someone who owns it and loves it does not mean that you will! We all use and love different equipment for different reasons and the best way to decide if a piece of equipment - whether its a camera body, lens, or lighting - is to use it yourself. Camera equipment isn't cheap and there is no reason to jump the gun and buy something without using it and making sure that investing in it is a good business move.
It is a much wiser decision to buy one great lens for $1000 that it is to buy three okay lenses at $300 each and you'll never convince me otherwise because I came to that conclusion through experience alone.
Quality > Quantity - ALWAYS.
The only person you need to be comparing yourself to is yourself. No exceptions.
Sure, learn from others. Let them inspire you and motivate you to do better but NEVER compare. There is no sense in playing the comparison game and you'll make yourself crazy doing it. I used to scroll through Instagram feeling so unworthy of calling myself a photographer and it rally killed my confidence.
Learning to stay in my own lane was the most valuable lesson I have ever learned. Unless you specifically ask someone, you don't always know how or why they do things the way they do and even when you learn the hows and whys of someone's decisions, it still may not apply to you. In fact, it probably won't apply to you! Others' pricing, session packages, and general ways of doing business are developed by assessing what their needs are and developing a strategy to meet those needs... and everyone's needs are vastly different. Placing yourself at a certain price point simply because someone else prices themselves that way makes no sense and is a bad business move. You charge what you need to based off of what it costs to have a profitable business and to cover your personal expenses and everyone's situation is different. Be smart about how you do things but never do things a certain way simply because that's the way someone else does it. If it makes you a profit and it is legal (and hopefully ethical), then that is what makes sense for you.
Stop comparing, it's just running you into the ground!
The note I left off in the last point was to make sure you are doing things legally.
Guys, do it legally. I have no interest in hearing you out on why you're not doing things legally. If you're not, you are doing yourself and your clients a grave disservice, not to mention the industry as a whole. There is no reason for it. If it's because it's too expensive, then running a business in general isn't something you're financially ready for anyway and you still have some saving and learning to do.
Sorry not sorry.
What I did do was try to do everything legally. What I didn't do was research and make sure that I was. And spoiler alert: I wasn't.
The moment I realized I wasn't in legal business, you better bet I closed my business, researched like crazy, and reopened with legal help. I repeat: I REOPENED WITH LEGAL HELP.
If you don't know what you're doing, find someone who does. It doesn't have to be a lawyer, it can be a fellow professional (but be ready to pay either way. That professional either paid for their knowledge themselves or learned it the hard way and either way, they deserve compensation) but just make sure you're doing things the right way. You may know someone who has been under the radar for the last ten years - you may even be that person yourself - but let me assure you, if you are found to be operating illegally, it isn;t going to be pretty and it certainly will not be worth all of the time spent doing so.
Just do it the right way. For morality's sake.
No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
I am so ashamed to admit this, but I did. I only did it once but it happened and I am so disappointed in myself. You want to know one of the main reasons more and more public places are requiring permits to shoot there? Because people go in, disrespect the place, and then leave without doing anything about it. And sometimes those permits are NOT cheap!!
Guys, THIS IS NOT OKAY.
If a location allows you to shoot there - free or paid - respect it and leave it exactly as it was. Again, I don't want to hear ANY excuses - there is absolutely NO good reason not to clean up after yourself. You are RUINING it for those of us who have integrity.
And this isn't just confetti. Don't leave trash, props, or any evidence that you were even there. No one should be cleaning up after you except for you and again, if that is too much to ask, then you have no business doing business.
I realize this last one is a bit harsh but at the same time, there is just no good reason to do this. If you make a mess, you clean it up and move on! Plain and simple!
Whew, so there they are - my top ten mistakes I made when I started out as a photographer. That has me feeling pretty vulnerable but if it helps even one person, then it is totally worth it! If you're a business owner, what is something that you wish you had done differently in the beginning? I know you have something- we all do!