When I first started shooting weddings, I didn’t take my business as seriously as I should have. In my defense, I was in college, I was barely 19 years old, and I had a lot to learn about life in general, let alone running a successful wedding photography business. However, if I’m being honest, the reason why I wasn’t as serious as I should have been when I was younger and just starting out was because I didn’t really believe that my business was going to turn into anything promising. I really didn’t. My dad kept telling me I was headed for something great, and so did my boyfriend (now husband!) at the time. It was like everyone else in my life saw what I couldn’t: the talent, the intelligence, the ability to take a picture of something in nature that looked seemingly normal in real life and make it look beautiful on camera. I think a good handful of wedding photographers probably start out this way, taking pictures of lightning storms on the lake, flowers in their backyard, and close-up shots of the sprinkles on a cookie at someone’s birthday party. I can’t be the only one, right?!
I didn’t set out to shoot weddings, it just kind of happened, and I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know how to prepare to run my own business, so I set out to “learn as I go” and tried to read as many books, blogs, magazines, etc. that I could to gain all the knowledge my brain could possibly absorb about being a great wedding photographer. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Many times in the beginning of my business, I felt like a fish out of water… or more like some land-bound predator who had been thrown into ocean’s deep and told to catch a million fish. Not impossible, but insanely difficult. It was tough.
The spring of my sophomore year of college, I got fired from my job. It was a seasonal internship that didn’t have an end date, and my boss had even told me he could see me working full-time for his company after I graduated. But as time went on and my boss came to know me better, he learned I was a photographer and that I was building a (very small, very humble) business, he saw what many of the mentors in my life could see that I could not: I was headed for something good.
I vividly remember my boss scheduling a meeting with me on a cold February day. He didn’t tell me what the meeting was about, but we had these meetings from time to time to touch base about a new project, a certain client, how my performance was looking, etc. I didn’t expect the meeting’s purpose to be centered on MY business instead. Here’s the question he asked me that I’ll never forget:
“Are you prepared for success?”
I was taken aback by his seemingly random inquiry into my business endeavors, so I really didn’t know how to respond. “What do you mean? I mean, I don’t think my business is my long-term plan after college. It’s just a side thing I like to do for fun!” He asked me again…
“Are you prepared for success?”
He went on to tell me how when he first started his own company, he didn’t expect it to turn into the multi-million dollar cooperation it is today. Not at all. Yet it did. And when something has the potential to grow quickly, there is a pressing need to get everything in order so that you can answer the question, “Are you prepared for success?” with a confident YES.
There are several mistakes I made in my first couple years as a wedding photographer that I can see much more clearly now that I’m looking back, years down the road. A little older, a little wiser, and without a doubt wishing I had listened to my very well-meaning boss when he told me I needed to prepare for success, even if I didn’t think it was ever going to come out of any of my efforts. What my boss was trying to get across was that when you grow QUICKLY, the more successful you become, the more work there is to do, and if you’re not taking care of some basic elements of your business, it can just as quickly become the greatest source of stress in your life. You may be making more than ever before, which feels amazing… but you may find yourself feeling like you’re drowning just as prominently. That’s not fun, and it’s not a recipe for long-term happiness OR success.
So what are those mistakes I made early on in my business that would have been SIMPLE to fix?! All of these fixes require just a LITTLE bit of work up front, but they are all so worth reaping the benefits of your labor long-term, when you’re business is thriving. Here they are:
3 Mistakes To Avoid When Starting Your Business
1) Letting Disorganization Rule
- Have a simple, solid workflow and stick to it
- Track income & expenses (Excel is great!)
- Don’t fall behind! Cultivate the discipline necessary to get your work done and take initiative to always be thinking one step ahead.
- PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! Prepare for the worst and you will exceed what you thought was your best!
- Often, being disorganized is really laziness in disguise. Don’t allow being LAZY to ruin your dreams for your business!
2) Thinking Harder, NOT Smarter
- Don’t jump to the best of the best programs, tools, etc. right off the bat. Start SIMPLE & small and perfect those processes and programs and tools… THEN work your way up!
- Don’t overthink your systems. You probably don’t need Quickbooks to get started. I still don’t need it! I still use the same Excel spreadsheet I started off with almost 5 years ago! You also probably don’t need to pay for a premium studio management system. Just find something affordable and simple that works well and is quick & easy to learn! Google has contracts, questionnaires, etc. and is a great place to start!
- Remember, just because you don’t have all of what the successful photographers do doesn’t mean you can’t be as successful as them!
3) Over Promising and UNDER Delivering
- Rule #1 of owning a business or providing any sort of service at all: Always under promise and OVER deliver! If you say you are going to do one thing, always include an extra bonus on top that wasn’t even expected of you. Not the other way around. It may be tempting to make promises you haven’t necessarily made before to book a client, but that’s never a good idea. For example, I once made the mistake of using the wording, “I edit all of my wedding images extensively to make sure my clients look and feel as beautiful as possible in every single image.” That sounds like extensive retouching… and that is very time-intensive! It would have been much better to say, “I edit all of my images by hand with lighting, cropping, color correction, and basic retouching for close-up portraits, like removal of obvious blemishes or very distracting elements.”
- If we set a standard at the beginning that we are 150% positive we can meet, it is much easier to WOW our clients by doing those special things that are a little harder to do but we know we can achieve with a little extra effort! It gives us room to breathe but also to exceed expectations and really make our client experience unforgettable… and client experience is everything.
If you’re just starting out in your business, sit down and make a list of 5 things you know you should get in order this week before doing anything else. That could be hiring a CPA, figuring out how to set up quarterly estimated tax payments, plugging in what you’ve spent so far this year into an Excel spreadsheet, getting your contract or policies/procedures document in order… the list goes on. Chances are, you’ve probably already had a few things come to mind while reading this post! Write those down and then set a time to get them done in your schedule this week.
Here’s the thing: It is much easier to gather a basket of three eggs from a small chicken coup than it is to walk into an entire hen house to gather one hundred. The more that time goes on, the more work you are doing, clients you are serving, money you are managing, and goals you are setting out to achieve. Do yourself a favor and get all of your ducks (or chickens!) in a row NOW while there is still more time to do so. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you know you can do today. I promise you, it will be so well worth it in the end.
You will thank yourself later for preparing for success, even when you weren’t sure success would ever come.