Overcoming Obstacles – How I Got Started in Photography with Blair Phillips
The only person who truly wants to hear excuses is the person giving them. Taking the easy road is most likely not going to bring you true happiness in the long run. Anyone can buy a camera and call himself a photographer, but only a few are able to be persistent enough to make a living with that camera. Fear of failure is the biggest thing that can keep you from accomplishing goals. There is a huge misconception that you have to have a huge studio, tons of equipment, and a huge client base in order to start making money as a photographer. The other misconception is that once you are past the five-year mark in business, you are here to stay. But being a full-time photographer and business owner is a struggle that never ends.
One of the cardinal sins I see new photographers make is what I call “betting the farm.” This is when you put everything you have on the line and hope it works out. That puts so much pressure on you that you will never be able to enjoy photography.
I began my business by asking friends and coworkers if they knew of anyone in need of a session by a beginner. A few of them did, and I somehow struggled through those early sessions. I made enough to buy my first studio light. I went back to those people who believed in me, and asked them to reach out to more friends and families who might be interested in a session. Before I knew it, my phone began to ring. With each session, I would save all that I could and put it into my equipment fund. That was nearly 11 years ago.
Getting the ball rolling
Walking away from a full-time job to start a career as a photography studio owner is not something you wake up and spontaneously decide to do. Once you have an influx of business, it is so tough to determine when to go full time on your own.
I have an easy way to gauge when the timing is right for you to make that jump. When your job is consistently keeping you from making more money month after month, you know the time is right. I worked my full-time job and moonlighted as a photographer for two years before letting the job go. I worked the last six months of that job part time just to be sure of my decision. Creating a great foundation takes time and can’t be rushed.
What to shoot?
I am so glad I explored all types of sessions in the beginning. Everyone should shoot weddings early on in their career. They bring a certain type of stress and pressure that will either make or break you. With years of weddings under my belt, I feel I can handle anything. You will find that you enjoy photographing certain types of sessions way more than others. If you despise photographing certain things, mark them off your list. If you continue to do sessions that bring you no enjoyment, your work and life will suffer.
Let’s shift gears and talk about maintaining the business you have worked so hard to get. Having a very outgoing personality is one of the best tools you can have. How you handle mistakes is key. Communication and kindness will often dissolve any problems you may have with a client. People are often very rude and disrespectful when there’s a problem. Be the change you want to see in the world by killing people with kindness. Being able to create great images is essential, but the way you treat clients is sometimes even more important because of referrals and repeat business.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better
More is not always better. I have had up to six employees at one time, and that turned into a business itself. In order to be very successful, you don’t need a building full of employees. My wife and I live a very nice lifestyle with lots of freedom with just three of us working the business.
The photography industry is one of the quickest markets in which to become displaced. Just because what you are doing today is working very well does not mean it will carry the same success next year. If you put all of your focus on one thing, where will you be if it fails? We are constantly digging for new business. You have to consciously break your mindset. Change is inevitable, and you must change what you are doing every once in a while in order to retain your popularity with clients. If you produce the same thing day after day, it will become boring and lose client interest. You do not have to set out each day to reinvent the wheel, but be prepared to make adjustments to it every once in a while. Keep your eyes and mind open to what is going on in the world around you.
Network, Network, Network!
Another helpful asset to beginning and growing photography entrepreneurs is the ability to reach out to competitors. I have befriended several very successful photographers over the years. Most of those relationships were started at a photography convention. These are people I bounce ideas off and gain new ideas from.
Here is an example of just how helpful this can be. I recently attended a convention on school photography. I needed help with pricing and packages. Organizers asked the 40 studios in attendance to bring their current school order forms, so we left with 40 different pricing perspectives. Before the convention, I wrote down every question I could think of. Then I took advantage of any downtime and asked everyone I could to help answer my questions.
I seem to get more help by forming relationships way outside of my market. Cherish the relationships that you are able to make along the way, because you have no idea just how much you can help each other.
No matter the size you want to grow your company, we all have the same responsibilities as photographers. Those responsibilities include creating great images and relationships, and giving back to a beginning photographer. When life gives you reasons to gripe, just take the high road, because there is a lot less traffic up there.