So here I am, sitting down to write this post, over a month after publishing the first half. I thought maybe I was a couple weeks late. But nope. An entire month. It’s slightly embarrassing to be so tardy, but at the very least it makes for an easy lead-in to the first point, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Here we go.
14. Be Organized
By now you’ve probably guessed that I am not a naturally organized person. My default mode is clutter. But as we’ve been running our business for 6 years now, we’ve come to learn that good organization is absolutely critical. It’s not just a matter of being neat and tidy. It really comes down to saving yourself many headaches and a whole lot of time.
Here’s an example. When we got started we didn’t have a system for organizing our images. At the time it didn’t matter too much, since we only had a small catalog of work. But now, 6 years later, we have tens of thousands of photos to try to deal with, and the disastrous lack of organization meant that when we have to go back to our old work, it took hours to find the right files. This year one of our projects was to reorganize everything so that we’re set up going forward. It took weeks to get everything in order. And all of that headache could have been avoided if we just set up a system from the get-go!
The same deal goes for your business files. Contracts, orders, client details — being able to easily access these is critical to the smooth operation of your business, so get organized NOW and save yourself in the future.
15. Value Your Time
This is a lesson new photographers will hear coming at them from every direction. Charge for your time. Value it. But when you’re just getting started, you often do work for less than your ideal rate, or even for free, just to get the ball rolling. That’s cool, you gotta do what you gotta do to get your business running. But it’s easy to let that mindset stick around, even when you should be charging for all of the time you spend on your business.
We’ve been very bad at this for years. It’s a lesson that never really sunk in until we heard it put another way.
Your time is the ONLY thing in your life that you cannot get more of.
Please take a second to consider that. It’s really important, which is why it’s in bold AND italics. Even the richest dudes in the world cannot buy themselves more time. It is most valuable thing you will ever possess.
Once you really take that lesson to heart, you’ll find that the way you approach life changes. If someone wants your time, you think carefully about what you get in return. And whether it’s really worth it.
So this isn’t just about charging the rate for your work that your local market has decided is “fair”. This is about realizing that your time is all you have. And I don’t know about you, but I want to use my time well.
16. Focus On What You Love Most
With that very limited time of yours, you’ll find that you want to spend it doing things that you really enjoy. And that should include the time you spend doing your work. Some people would consider that concept a luxury. So if you’re one of the lucky people in this world who gets to choose what you do with your work, and decide to do what you really love, then you should really take advantage of that!
Beyond just a matter of spending your time doing what you enjoy, focusing your work on what you love most is going to help both the quality of your images, as well as make it easier to run your business.
We’ve tried our hand at a pretty decent range of work in our short careers. We’ve done commercial photography, headshots, weddings, portraits, graphic design, teaching… And from that experience I can tell you that if you are doing something that you aren’t head over heels in love with, your work will suffer. Your heart won’t be fully into it, and that lets everyone down—both you and your clients. It also makes it harder to put in the effort to handle the business side of things, when you’re lacking the passion.
So focus on what you really love to shoot. You’ll still have to put in a ton of work to make it happen—you’ll never get around that. But you’ll enjoy the work more, and the end result is that you’ll create better images, and be happier doing so!
17. Hire An Accountant
These have been some heavy lessons, so here’s an easy one to give you a break. Hire an accountant. We put this off for years, and when we finally got around to it, we couldn’t believe we hadn’t done it earlier.
An accountant is there to help you save money. Sure, you pay them to do it. But they should be saving you a lot more than you’re paying them. Plus they save you a LOT of time and headache. So just do it. The first time we had a meeting with our accountant, Rob walked out and said it felt “like going to a spa for your business”. It can be seriously relaxing to know that a professional is looking out for you and your business!
18. Ask A Ton Of Questions
This one is so simple to do, and the results are astounding. It works particularly well with your clients. Ask them a LOT of questions about themselves when you meet.
At first we thought the goal of a meeting was the opposite. We’d tell them all about us, and what we did, and why we did it. And that’s all lovely, but should take just a few minutes to explain. What really matters is who they are, and how you can help them. And by asking questions, you’re ensuring that you are focusing on them, and getting interested in who they are. That’s a very valuable thing for a few reasons.
Firstly, that helps them to feel like you really care about them. And folks want to work with people who actually care about them!
Secondly, it will help you to create better images for them. You’ll know more about their personalities, and be able to focus on those moments that really capture who they are.
Finally, it simply helps you meet their needs as a service provider. So when you ask them a ton of questions about their wedding day, the style of photography they like, how they hope to show off the images after the wedding, and what parts of the wedding day are most important to them, it’s going to be incredibly easy for you to:
- Send them some great referrals to make the rest of their planning super easy (and they’ll love you for that).
- Ensure that you’re the right photographer for them, and understand what about your work they enjoy the most, so you can focus on that, and be confident in creating images they’ll love.
- Make sure you shoot images that will work well for the products they hope to purchase (this is especially important for an album!).
- Be totally prepared to capture those moments of the big day that they care the most about.
See how well you can take care of them, just because you asked a few key questions?
19. Make Things Easy For Your Clients
When we first became professional photographers we had never actually hired a professional photographer. We were oblivious to the fact that the process could be incredibly time-consuming, confusing, frustrating, and stressful!
I’m sure we can agree that those are feelings that you don’t want your clients to be experiencing when trying to book you! So the more you can do to make it easy for them, the more they’ll love you for it.
This includes things like:
- Having the location of your photography business easily visible on your website. Imagine how frustrating it is for clients who can’t tell if you even work in their city!
- Creating PDFs that help them through the entire process of working with you.
- Having a payment system that makes it super easy for them to get money to you
And just generally being as helpful as you possibly can! That mindset can be the difference between one-time clients, and those that book you every year and tell everyone they’ve ever known how awesome you are!
20. Keep Track of Details
This goes along with being organized. If you keep track of details in your business, like how many inquiries you get, how many bookings those turn into, how much you make from different types of shoots, and so on and so forth, you have some seriously valuable insight into your business!
Guess what. We never really did this. And I regret that big time. I mean, when you decide to make some changes to your business to improve it, you need to know what your baseline is so you can tell if what you did actually helped! But without details, you are really just guessing. And when you are putting so much time, money and effort into what you do, you need to be knowing, not guessing.
So start now. Don’t make our mistake. It doesn’t need to be fancy, I’m sure just a simple spreadsheet can do the trick! Or if any of you are awesome, and do this, let us know your system!!
21. Set Goals
Goals are magical. Have you experienced this before? You can be just floating along with no real direction, and as soon as you set yourself a goal, you get a burst of energy, and things start happening!
Goals are great ways to direct your work. You’ll be putting a lot of time and effort into your business. You want to make sure all that energy is taking you where you want to go! A goal keeps you in line and focused.
We’ve spent far too much time working without an aim. For the first few years our only goal was to survive! And while we did manage that, we didn’t do a lot of growing as a business. Once we stepped back, and decided where we wanted to go, long term, with our work, our approach to everything changed, and we started to see a lot more success!
So set some goals for yourself! Do it right after reading this article if you don’t have any. It only takes a few minutes of thinking, and can make a world of difference in what you manage to achieve! Goals come in all shapes, so set lots. Goals for the day. Goals for the week. The month. The year. 5 years. 10 years. They’re all fantastic, and valuable, so get to it!
22. Failing Is Totally Ok
A discussion of goals should definitely be followed by a reminder that it is totally ok to fail. Chance are you’ll fail in many ways, many times in your business. That’s just the nature of taking risks and doing something new!
I’ve spent a lot of my time living in fear of failure. And I’ve found that the more I let go of that fear, the more fun I have, and the more wonderful things I achieve.
Think of it this way. When you were in school, failing an exam seemed like a big deal didn’t it? And now, looking back, it seems laughable that we would care so much about one exam that actually had no impact on our “real life”.
I’m guessing that in 50 years, we’ll feel the same way about the things we’re afraid to fail at right now. And our future selves will wish they could tell us to lighten up, take chances, and enjoy ourselves. Just a guess though. :)
23. Don’t Compete On Price
One of the first things we did when we were getting started was to look at the prices of other photographers in our area, and then set our own price based on how we felt we stacked up to them in terms of experience and quality. So really that meant we just charged less than them.
Now, that was a silly move, because we didn’t stop to figure out what we would need to charge to keep our own business running. I can pretty much guarantee that every single photographer we looked at had a different business model, and different needs. And their prices were set to take care of their own situation.
So step one is to make sure you’re setting your prices based on your own unique business, and not those around you! If you need help, make sure to head over to The Modern Tog, who has an amazing free pricing guide.
And then step two, is to avoid making your competitive advantage a lower price. It seems like an easy way to get bookings—just charge less. And it certainly can be a strategy. But if you took economics, you’ll know that to win that battle, you have to work more to make the same amount of profit. So basically lower prices means you’re doing more work for less money, just to get by. That doesn’t sound fun to me at all.
Set your prices where they need to be for you. Then make your competitive advantages fun things like better customer service and better images. Taking care of your clients, and working on your art are much more fun ways to set your business apart than low prices.
24. Find The Balance
Ask our friends and family, and they’ll tell you that for the first 4 years of our business, we were pretty much invisible. All we did was work, day and night. We’re lucky they stuck around! While we learned and progressed a lot in that time, we also came close to burning out on multiple occasions, and were not very happy or healthy.
These days we try much harder to create a balance between working and taking time away from work. It’s still a challenge, especially when you’re self employed, and know that your business is the only thing keeping you from homelessness!
But that balance will not only keep you sane, but also help you to enjoy both life and work more. You know how they say absence makes the heart grow fonder? Spend some time away from your business, and chances are you’ll look forward to getting back to it. And that genuine energy will help you do even better work!
25. Never Stop Learning
In the early days of becoming a photographer you spend most of your time learning—reading blogs, books, practicing, and trying out new techniques. But there might come a point where you feel like you’ve figured it out, and are ready to go and actually do it!
Well, you might be ready to start making things happen for yourself. But you are never ever done learning. I don’t think we really understood that concept until we were a few years into our careers. Once we got things rolling, we coasted for a while, and spent all our time working. We didn’t make time to learn, and a lot of parts of our business never improved because of that.
Now, these days, if we go for a while without learning something new, we feel stagnant. Your brain is like a muscle, and if you’re not working it out by challenging it and learning new things, it will get weak.
So make sure you commit to the concept of non-stop learning as early as possible. And then do it. That’s one of the surest ways that I know of to find success!! (The other one, by the way, is hard work).
26. Don’t Be Afraid
We’re here at the end of the list, and I hope that by this point you have tons of big dreams, goals, and ideas for your future. But, if you’re like most people, you’ll have something else fighting against those dreams and goals. And that is fear.
I can tell you that a lot of times I have chosen not to do something because I was afraid. I regret those decisions a lot.
I can also tell you that a lot of times I have done something, even though I was afraid. I’ve never regretted those decisions. Even if it ended up as a flop, I was glad to have simply tried, and I always learned something from the experience. It made me stronger and better. You don’t learn anything when you just avoid doing something.
So, take it from me. Kick fear in the butt. Don’t let it stop you. You don’t have time for that nonsense! Instead, just get out there, do what makes you happy, and make awesome things happen. It really can be that simple.