When starting a business, I’m sure you’ve researched all of the things and tried to prepare yourself for every potential obstacle being in business can give you. You might have reached out to a few people in the industry who you look up to and took notes on valuable lessons they have learned.
And let’s be honest, they were lifesavers when you found yourself in similar positions. But no matter how many guides you read or helpful podcasts you listen to, everyone’s journey will be different and oftentimes, you might find that you are going through obstacles no one has prepared you for.
You might even be experiencing new things that are unique to your own journey that no one could have prepared you for. Trust me, I’ve been there! And I actually want to share some of those things with you that will hopefully help change your perspective on a few things that are rarely mentioned in the entrepreneurship journey so that you feel just a little more confident and comfortable when these things come around.
Here are 12 things I wish I knew when starting my photography business—
#1: Everything takes a lot longer than you think.
When you are in your first few years of business, you might have all of these tasks and projects laid out that you want to accomplish fast. For example, I was ready to jump in and have my portfolio ready, book tons of shoots, make X amount of money and invest it here…and there… and everywhere. I had an entire plan laid out and what each step would look like. I created unrealistic time constraints on projects. What I told myself I would finish in a week would always take two. What I said I would finish in two months, always took four. I quickly realized that no matter what time I applied to my projects, it would always take double that. And that’s not a bad thing!
Something to realize that many overlook in the honeymoon stages of their business is how long something is going to take you. Some things will take longer than you think, and that’s okay! All good things come with time. Learning patience will be a game changer for you so that you won’t beat yourself up about not meeting deadlines because, in reality, timelines can change and be flexible.
#2: You can achieve more with a team.
I used to look at a lot of photographers who have been in careers longer than me whose work I absolutely adored and would always tell myself, “I wish I could do that” or “why can’t I create these amazing pieces the way that they do?” I would sit there and compare myself into misery on what I lacked compared to the next photographer.
I had to really take a step back and look behind the scenes—and do you know what I found? A team. These amazing photos weren’t created from just one individual, it was a team effort. Oftentimes, these photographers would have teams that would consist of a lighting assistant, a photo assistant, three models, a hair stylist, a makeup artist, a lighting technician and specialist, and even a creative director on set. They had things I currently had no access to and I would beat myself up over wanting to create something that took 15 people as just one person.
Always remember that you can achieve much more when you have people to help you. Once I got that ingrained in my head, I would always pull people into my projects. Now I always have photo assistants, hair stylists, and makeup artists on set with me. And we are able to come up with things I could never do by myself.
Throw the pride away and recruit help. Take the time to invest in a team because you will be surprised at the magic you can create when you aren’t stretched thin wearing all of the hats.
#3: You can’t do it all on your own.
When you are an entrepreneur, you are literally doing everything by yourself in the beginning. You are wearing every hat and being every single person and department in your business.
As an entrepreneur, I’m not just a photographer—I’m also my marketing team, my tech team, my systems team, and the list goes on. And while this may seem daunting and scary, embrace the beginning stages when you are wearing all the hats because this allows you to get up close and personal within your business. You get to truly learn and understand your business and how it operates. You’ll learn what you’re good at and what you hate doing. You’ll learn where your genius lies and what you can start delegating.
After being in my business and getting to experience the inner workings of it, I was able to outsource tasks I no longer enjoyed to contractors. And now, I have my very first employee who takes care of a lot of the systems work that I don’t enjoy, and the writing work that I don’t have time to do. And this has opened up so much free time for me to be in the space of my business that I really love, like planning shoots and actually being on set and creating and working closely with my clients.
All of this is to say, if you want to grow and scale your business, you have to outsource and begin freeing up space off your plate that takes you away from what makes you the genius in your business. Hire geniuses for the parts of your business you hate or don’t feel completely confident in so that your business can excel and scale to the visions you have for it.
#4: Money fluctuates.
This is a really difficult thing to wrap your head around when running a business. When I first started, there would be months where I made $0…even now, I still experience months where inbound revenue is low. Some months would be in the negatives because I would invest more than I’m making. And other months, I would make $20k and then be at $0 the next month.
Money will fluctuate in business and most times, it has nothing to do with you. It can be a change in the weather or a change in the algorithm, especially if social media is how you bring in sales. Of course, it can be stressful to see low numbers, especially after a high revenue month, but you have to keep pushing forward, showing up in your business and doing the work. Look at the bigger picture and keep moving with the same energy because dry spells will end.
Don’t beat yourself up when the dry spell in revenue comes. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged and turn into a hermit crab. We don’t have a stable income like people employed in an office job, with more flexibility comes a certain amount of instability with money. Money fluctuates, and that is totally normal, don’t let it paralyze you into stagnation.
#5: You will spend a lot of time alone being a business owner.
As someone who loves my alone time, the alone time I experienced in business was a lot more than I was prepared for. As a solopreneur, there will be a lot of time you spend alone—no coworkers to bounce ideas off of, no boss to tell you what to do and guide you. It can be very lonely, even for people who like their alone time.
Going to coffee shops, being around people, finding people in your industry who do similar things are all ways you can bring the social life back into this new entrepreneurial journey of yours. Because as much as I love my family, they aren’t entrepreneurs and they don’t understand what it’s like. So surrounding yourself with people who are in the same space and finding community, especially as a service provider, will be able to counteract the effects of the loneliness many solopreneurs face.
#6: Having a work life balance is sooooo important.
When you are a solopreneur who wears all of the hats and experiences longer periods of being alone, you can pick up a really unhealthy work life balance. To prevent this, creating a work schedule will allow for time to yourself and with friends & family. For example, I don’t work past 5pm to ensure I allow myself some downtime to do other things in the day.
Create a schedule and make the space in your day to give other areas of your life your attention. And be consistent with your scheduling—create boundaries so that you don’t overwork yourself and burn out.
#7: You will make a lot of mistakes.
Everyone makes mistakes. We are human. And the crazy part is that we subconsciously know we are human and make mistakes, yet when that mistake happens, we think it's the end of the world and that we are a loser or a hot mess. As business owners, we tend to place unrealistic expectations of perfection on ourselves.
I, myself, have made a ton of mistakes and have had my fair share of feeling dumb when the ball was dropped. If you were subscribed to my newsletters during October, I shared horror stories about a ton of my mistakes. But you know what? You have to make mistakes to learn, and as long as you get the lesson and have learned from that experience, that’s all that matters.
#8: You’re going to meet so many amazing people.
While you're in business, putting in all the effort and growing it, you are going to experience so many amazing things. While growing my business, I’ve met so many amazing people and have had some many opportunities that I would’ve never have known about.
As a photographer, I spend a lot of time collaborating with people and meeting creatives who have opened my mind to different possibilities that I never would’ve dreamed of. Personally, I don’t like photographing weddings or couples, yet I’ve met many wedding photographers whose work I love that brings fresh perspectives on concepts I wouldn’t have ever thought about.
It’s really amazing to make connections with people who are in different areas as well! I’ve connected with people from New York, Michigan, Uganda, the list goes on. And each of these people have brought a new perspective on things that made me love what I do ten times more.
#9: You are going to create things you would have never imagined.
When I first started out in photography, I had these concepts and ideas that I wasn’t able to fully translate. I had visions that didn’t always come out right on the camera. I didn't know what that was really going to look like or what that really meant, I just knew I wanted to be a creative photographer. But now, I’m able to capture and translate my ideas and visions into a reality with my images due to the experience and opportunities I’ve taken while on this entrepreneurial journey. I was flown out to New York to shoot for a designer and their line of clothing. That opportunity allowed me to see the inside of her process and it’s something I would have never dreamed of or would have expected when I became a photographer.
I’ve gotten to work with JBL, the audio brand, who reached out to me to shoot content for them. Each time I’m given an opportunity like this, I am reminded how thankful I am for the work I’ve put in and for the people I’ve met along the way.
There are so many amazing opportunities and experiences out there waiting for you ahead that will open doors and ideas that you possibly would have never imagined for yourself. So even when it feels really hard, just remember you never know what kind of opportunity awaits just around the corner. Keep pushing!!
#10: You can say no.
In the beginning of starting your business, you will yourself receive many inquiries from a lot of people, and while it’s exciting, establishing boundaries in the beginning is a must.
You might tell yourself that although this person doesn’t have the full budget, they reached out and I want to make it work. Or this person is asking for something I don’t really offer a service but I’ll make it work. But as you get further in business, you will realize that you are allowed to veto people who inquire with you.
And this is not to say no to everyone, but as soon as you have allowed yourself to experience a diverse set of clientele that allows you to learn who you do and don’t like working with, immediately begin establishing boundaries and confidently say no to those who don’t align with what you provide.
You don’t have to take someone on just because they ask you to.
#11: Sometimes taking a break is the most productive thing you can do.
As entrepreneurs, we are working all the time and we technically don’t get scheduled holidays the same way one with a W-2 might in corporate. And what we don’t realize is that we, too, can schedule holidays and breaks for ourselves. We can create our own holidays and we deserve that. Sometimes we need a 4 day weekend or an entire week off just as anyone else would who works a full time job.
If you are feeling like you aren't getting anything done, rather than burn yourself out trying to turn your gears that have already given out, take a break. Because at the end of the day, you don’t want to burn yourself out on something you are being unproductive on.
I’ve burned myself out many times and it's actually one of the reasons I ended up hiring an employee because I was burning myself out over and over again. And I never realized how much time and energy I was wasting on being unproductive. Set those energetic boundaries for yourself. Boundaries aren’t just client-facing. They are to protect your peace and energy at all times everywhere you go no matter what it is you are doing.
Don’t burn yourself out trying to force an unproductive brain that needs rest to put out mediocre work—wait until you are refreshed with energy before continuing to work.
#12: It’s normal to not want to create sometimes.
As a creative service provider, it takes a lot of mental energy to create art and visuals. Especially as a creative photographer and director, it’s extremely exhausting to create what others require of you ALL THE TIME.
Take creative breaks!
As an entrepreneur, it’s already so easy to overwork yourself but when you are being sourced for creative results such as photography, it becomes very exhausting and even redundant at times. Remember, taking what you’re passionate about and turning it into a career can be exhausting. No one is going to be mad at you for it.
There are times where I don’t want to take a single photo or edit another picture. I just want to relax and read, giving my brain a rest from what I do almost every day. It doesn’t mean I don't like my passion anymore, it means I’m human and humans need rest to reset with new energy.
Having your passion become your career is amazing. But at the end of the day, work is work, and even your passion on some days can be tiring to a point where you just need a break. Take those breaks! You owe it to yourself and your craft.
Take the saying “When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work” with a grain of salt. This doesn’t mean overworking yourself with your passion, especially if it requires a lot of brain energy.