I wanted to write a blog post about some of the biggest mistakes I made with my business over the past year. As I approach my official one year anniversary, I look back over this year and think wow. Sure, I’ve learned a LOT since I launched my business last year but I’ve also made some pretty big mistakes along the way. I wouldn’t necessarily say that everything has gone as planned or expected, but I’ve grown so much since I launched my new brand last August and I’m really happy with where I am. Through all the frustration, stress + failures, the important thing is that I learned from the mistakes I’ve made and used them to move forward. Maybe this list will help other photographers avoid the same mistakes I made, maybe not. Sometimes I think you need to learn things the hard way.
1. Obsessively followed other pet photographers’ blogs, consistently compared myself to them and filled my head with self doubt. This was my #1 mistake. I know everyone does it. It’s hard not to look at other peoples’ work and compare yourself to them, especially when you’re just starting out. But this is the worst thing you can do to yourself or your business. If you become all-consumed with other peoples’ work and words, you soon realize that you have no idea who you are yourself as an artist. Resist the temptation and focus on perfecting your own images. You’ll be so thankful you did.
2. Bought too many templates that I never ever use. I am guilty of spending money on things I didn’t need when I first started my business. I had that luxury since I was (and still am) working a full-time job in addition to my photography business. Shortly before my official launch last year, I went ahead and opened my business checking account. I knew I needed to keep my photography income completely separate from my personal income and from that point on, anything I need for my business has to come from that account. No more spending money on things I don’t need or can’t afford. And to be honest, it feels a lot more gratifying when I buy something now because I know I have earned it!
3. Refused to sell digital images. Early on in my pet photography business, I decided I wanted to sell tangible products to my clients. I didn’t want to be a shoot and burn photographer. I wanted to be a boutique photographer with high-end, custom products for my clients. I refused to even think about digital images and didn’t offer them at all. That approach worked out well for me because all of my clients purchased beautiful custom products (mostly canvases and/or coffee table books) and no one ever asked for digital files. Since moving, my view on digital files has changed. I started to think about what I’d want as a client and even though I’d always want tangible products, I’d also want to option of purchasing the digital files for safe keeping. I redesigned all of my collections this summer to include medium resolution digital files and although I still want my clients to invest in my high-end custom products, I now offer them digital options if they want to go that route
4. Took on projects that weren’t right for me. This was a huge mistake I made early on because I wanted to work so bad. I knew almost immediately that I should’ve listened to my gut and said no… but I wanted to work. Trust me on this. If you get an inquiry and it’s not something you generally do or if it just doesn’t feel right, please do yourself a favor and say no. You may never know whether you made the right decision or not, but it’s a lot better than going through it and knowing for a fact that you made the wrong decision by saying yes.
5. Didn’t believe in myself enough to stand firm on my prices. This goes hand in hand with #4. Taking on projects that aren’t within your normal scope of work or taking on a client who doesn’t feel right is hard. You feel vulnerable + unsure, which can lead you to give in when a client starts questioning your prices. If you’re not sure of yourself or your work, you will walk away feeling like a complete failure. I’ve walked away from some jobs seriously questioning myself for weeks and I quickly decided that I will always listen to my gut from now on and say no if warranted. It’s a lot better than bending over backwards and coming out of it feeling crummy.
6. Didn’t invest in the right gear from the start. When I first started getting serious about my photography I shot with a Canon Rebel and it worked great! It’s an amazing camera to start with, especially as you learn to shoot manually. However, I quickly realized that I needed something a bit more advanced. I upgraded to the 7D (a crop sensor camera) even though I knew eventually I wanted a full-frame camera. I had read lots of negative reviews about the 5D Mark II and it was also more expensive than the 7D, so that swayed my decision. Soon after, I decided to buy a used 5D Classic. Easily one of the best investments I made early on. From that point on, I decided to invest in the best equipment possible and not let price dictate what I spent my money on. I sold a lot of my slower lenses along the way, all the while wishing I had just spent the extra money and just bought the better lens to begin with. I started buying L series lenses and really putting a lot more thought into my purchases because in the end, they are an investment. Good lenses will last you for years!
7. Bought gear based on others’ recommendations and didn’t rent before buying to make sure it was the right equipment for me. After a few gear purchases that weren’t the best fit for me or my business, I started to LOVE renting equipment. Do not let the rental costs sway you. Places like borrowlenses.com are wonderful and you can play with whatever equipment you’d like for a relatively cheap rate. Trust me – rent equipment before you buy. You’ll thank yourself later.
8. Didn’t have a proper workspace. I am just now putting together an office for myself and I am so excited. My “office” has consisted of our dining room table in Baltimore, my dad’s spare bedroom when we were living with him last fall/winter, and a desk in the corner of our living room here in Charleston. None of these spaces ever gave me the privacy and serenity needed to focus on my business. I made it work, but I am so looking forward to a space to call my own, where I can shut the door and keep the rest of my life on the other side while I focus 100% on my business. This is super important, especially for someone who struggles to separate work and play like me.
I’m sure there are more mistakes that I’ve made, but these are some of the biggest and the ones I think new photographers may be able to learn from. I’d love to hear from fellow photographers and know what was your biggest mistake during the first year of your business was. Anything I may have missed that you really learned the hard way? I’d love to hear from you so head on over to Facebook to join the conversation or leave a comment here!