I’ve made many, many more than 25 mistakes in my 5 years in this industry, but these are some of the ones that affected my business the most. If anyone of them can help any of you from making the same mistake, I’m glad to share them. Some of them may be surprising, and some of them may be so obvious you are considering me an idiot right about now. I’m ok with that.
In no particular order:
Taking on too many “free” sessions. This is a lesson that I most recently learned, and am still recovering from. I love to give to charities, and I love to expand my portfolio, and I love to give photography to my friends. However, all of this “love” has added up to a backlog that I am only now recovering from after taking some time off from shooting. I am still editing free sessions from November, and *just* finished one from September. So what, you ask? It was free! Yes, but now my reputation is suffering because I will be forever known to these people as the photographer that takes forever to get your images to you. They don’t care that it was free. They care that they actually HAVE the photographs.
Letting emails sit in my inbox. My automatic email responder tells people who inquire about a session that I will respond within 24 hours. But for the longest time, I was taking 3-4 days to get back to people, and even (gasp!) sometimes forgetting about the email at all and not finding it for weeks afterwards. Whoa. Bad, bad business practices. After getting my 5th or 6th response from potential clients who had already booked with someone else, I smartened up. I try to email back immediately after getting the email. Clients like that. And I like having clients.
Not having confidence in my work. If you haven’t really talked to me in about 3 years, you would be amazed with the change. When I was first starting out, I had very little confidence in my work. I put on a brave face with clients, but I was constantly comparing myself to other photographers, and falling short. Even when I had been in business for awhile, doubts plagued me. Now I’m not saying that today I think I’m a rockstar, but I believe in myself and I know that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I can be just as good as anybody else.
Buying too many actions/templates/etc. I have about 20 different coffee table book templates. Guess what? I have not, nor will ever offer coffee table books. WHY on earth would I even buy one template, let alone 20? Obviously because I like throwing my money away. Now I think carefully about every single business purchase I make.
Hiding. This is a personality flaw I’ve always had. When things got overwhelming, I hid. There’s a part in book Confessions of a Shopaholic where she just runs away from all her debt, etc and hides at her parents’ house. That’s me. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I would just stick my head in the sand and pretend things weren’t happening. As you can guess, things don’t get better on their own, and you can create some pretty upset tummies by hiding out from your problems. Now, as hard as it is to do – I know that it’s just so much better to confront everything head on.
Thinking Photoshop could save me. When I started shooting RAW, I was in love with the fact that I didn’t need to custom white-balance anymore. I could just shoot and fix it later. Exposure problems? Oh well, fix it later! Except if you don’t get it right or nearly right in-camera, good luck getting a great image out of Photoshop. Oh, it can look ok . . . but do you really want to be sweating out your ordering appointment worried that they are going to choose something that was overly “fixed” in PS and might not be enlarged well? Which leads me to -
Showing clients less than awesome images. Crap exposure, weird color, missed focus. You know the minute that you put ANY image with those problems in a gallery, a client will order it. Big. HUGE! And then you can either give them a substandard product, explain to them that they can’t have the image they want, or convince them to get a canvas (heh heh). I’ve learned to save myself the headache and get rid of those images right away. Now that’s not to say that I still won’t show something with more emotion than technical perfection. But any imperfections have to be pretty minor.
Laziness. By nature, I am a lazy person. I work from my bed more than I really should admit. I love doing nothing – I love not working. It’s true! Thankfully, I love working at this particular job, so it counteracts my inherent laziness. But, I will leave things to the last minute and procrastinate and not get any work done and play Cafe World on Facebook and look at engagement rings at Costco.com. (I am already married and not likely to get engaged anytime soon.) Then I have a whole pile of work that has built up and I have to work really, really hard and I get stressed and it stinks. So I just try to plug through my to-do list everyday and schedule my laziness for appropriate times.
Laziness. Part Two. Laziness on the job. Every so often, I slip into a rut, and I stop trying new things at sessions. I go through the motions, get the usual shots and try to get the heck out of there. The clients don’t really know any differently – it doesn’t show in my personality or anything, but I’m just not that into it. I don’t feel inspired and just hit my go-to shots and then pack it up. I try now to find little things to inspire me for every session. Either a new blanket for a newborn, and new trick to make older kids laugh, or a new location. It’s up to ME to put the creativity into my photography.
Pretending I’m not a business person. If you are in business, you are a business person. I don’t care how creative you are – someone’s got to think of the biz side. If not you, then someone else. I used to only do the things I liked and let the other stuff slide. But it turns out that other stuff is kinda important, and can kill your business if you don’t take care of it. Like knowing if you are making any money. Again, leading me to:
Taxes. I am going to admit something that hopefully won’t land me in federal prison. I didn’t do taxes for 2 years. 2 years. I did my usual procrastination, then hiding routine. For two whole stinkin’ years! Imagine the knot in my stomach, always having that in the back of my mind. I had no idea what I had made, no idea what I owed, and it was making me SICK. But one day I just honestly smacked myself upside the head and bought QuickTax. It took me about 2 hours to do everything, and it was DONE!
My challenge these days is getting my taxes in on time each year. I still owe a $23 penalty from last year. I will write the cheque after this post. I promise.
I put a baby in a tree. On purpose. Against my better judgement, I had a parent suggest it, and I complied. The dad was behind the baby holding it and hiding behind the trunk. But it was still a stupid and dangerous thing to do. I completely and totally regret it. I did it because I wanted to impress other photographers. Now I don’t even SHOW that image to other people because I am so embarrassed by it.
Letting people take advantage of me. I’m Canadian, therefore I am a nice, polite, person. Which means that sometimes people try to push me around. They can try.
Because after having a couple of people push me to bend policies and then getting severely burned by doing so, I don’t let myself get pushed around anymore. I still give great customer service, and almost always say yes – but sometimes those yes’es have price tags that I attach. If something is going to take me extra time to do and it’s outside the norm of what I offer, then I will charge for it accordingly. There’s a great saying about bending over backwards, not forwards.Also, for those of you involved in commercial photography – this is practically an epidemic. Because there are so many photographers willing to shoot for peanuts because they think it’s “exciting”, more and more companies will try to lowball you for jobs. DON’T LET THEM. Know what your rates should be, and if you don’t – get FotoQuote or get out of shooting commercial projects.
I used to pay A LOT of attention to my local competition. So much so that I could tell you what hex code they used on the text on the footer of their blog. In other words, too much attention. I still think that a knowledge of your local market is smart for ANY business, I think photographers can get wrapped up in each other way too easily. When you look at another photographer’s site, there’s just no way to be objective. You are always going to find locations that are cooler, shots that are better, prices that are lower. It did me no good to get tied up in knots about stuff like that, and it didn’t inspire me to be a better photographer. More like a bitter photographer.
Studio Envy. I will admit that I still get studio envy every so often, have you SEEN Danna’s? I’d love to be able to not have to drive all over creation to get to a session, I’d love to have that professionalism that comes with having a space. However, with money being important to me and the lease prices being crazy expensive in Calgary (about 3K a month for 1000sqft, not including insurance, electricity, utilities, parking, furnishings, etc) it just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense for me to do it. Yes, I could take more sessions, and yes, my sales would be higher with the in-person ordering. At the moment though, with my youngest daughter still two years away from school, I don’t have the time to devote to being there. It’s just a financial risk that I am not willing to take right now. I am more about keeping the money for awesome vacations than paying “the man” every month.
Overexposing in my processing. I went through a phase for about a year, where everything I did was SO FREAKING BRIGHT. I have no idea why, except at the time I thought it was awesome. I took some shots of my Filipino friends, and after I processed them, they looked more caucasian than I do! Bright, light skin doesn’t look natural, and while it is a look, it’s not one that I am going for anymore.
Underexposing in my shooting. What the heck was I doing for awhile there where all my images were so dark in-camera? Maybe that’s why I was over-processing them later. All my images for a period were underexposed by at least a stop, requiring me to adjust exposure later in RAW and introduce more noise to the image. Now I tend to overexpose slightly if anything, because an overexposed RAW file is much easier to recover and process than an underexposed one.
Message boards. I still visit some photography forums, but I don’t devote the hours upon hours that I used to. Forums like ILP and Props can have a wealth of knowledge, but also a wealth of other stuff that will suck away your time. Maybe it’s because I don’t have as much to learn, but I don’t spend a lot of time on forums anymore, which makes me a lot more productive. If you can keep your participation to a level where it’s not damaging your overall time management, then have at ‘er. Just know what threads are worthwhile. And make sure you try to keep giving back what you get.
Believing the hype. I used to get sucked into believing pretty much everything I heard. A photographer with an average sale of 13K. Someone who was traveling all over the world to shoot babies. Someone who is so freaking awesome that you pale in comparison. Just remember that we all try to make ourselves look great, it’s good PR. We all want to look cooler than we are, busier than we are, more successful than we are. So if you’re told that your “frenemy” just booked 15 NBA triplet sessions for next week, just smile and wink. Who knows? Your next blog post of the amazing home and kids with designer duds may just be of your sister-in-law that you begged to let you shoot her family for free so you could put it on your site. I won’t tell if you won’t.
Not backing up properly. “I’m not a wedding photographer” I said. “I can go back and do a reshoot” I thought. Fine, maybe you can. But do you WANT to? I’d much rather spend the extra 10 minutes making an extra backup than the hours of a reshoot and re-edit. Oh my gosh, the stress of trying to recover images. Now I back-up my computer with Time Machine, with BackBlaze online, with an external hard-drive AND with DVDs. Excessive? Maybe. Safe? Definitely.
Getting rid of files. I tell my clients that I keep ordered files for one year. I had a client from 3 years prior want to purchase her digital files and I only had one copy of them, and it was on a busted hard drive. Bummer to lose out on that sale. But hurrah, I also had it on disc! If I had tossed those files to save “room” (and COME ON, how much room does it take to save the files?) I wouldn’t have that extra money in my pocket. Now I try to save everything. It’s like free money sometimes.
Being too much of a fluffer. Tissue paper, fancy cards, expensive things sent to the clients before they pay me a dime. I know this works for other people and that is awesome. I get the whole “boutique” studio thing. I however, want money. Cold hard cash, and I want to keep my bottom line as low as possible. So I carefully research what products give me the best look to match my branding, and discard the rest. I still have a lot of cool packaging and products, but I’m also as green as possible – making killer .pdfs to send instead of fancy triple tri-folded welcome cards. I still have a case of tiny silver tins that I thought would be great for wallets, but they are actually too small because I didn’t bother to match the measurements. Any ideas?
Listening to my husband. He’s a smart guy, maybe almost as smart as me. He owns a company. He runs a business. But he has no stinking idea about MY business. Don’t get me wrong, he gives me lots of good advice. Lots of common sense advice. But he never really can give me specific advice or ideas about this biz, because he’s #1 – not in it, and #2 – not a woman and not a mom. Before you yell at me for being sexist, think about who your clients are. If they are not overwhelmingly women, you are tricking me and not actually a baby photographer. Because the people we are targeting are moms, are women. And last I checked, my husband was neither. He just doesn’t think like women do, men tend to think with their heads while women think with their hearts. So while his advice and ideas are always practical, they are never emotional – and that’s what we need to tap into to succeed in this particular business.
Not sharing and not caring. I am not a private person. I have a big blabbermouth and I love to talk. Back when I was still listening to him, my husband was constantly telling me to stop telling my photog friends (online and in real life) all the awesome things I was doing. That I needed to keep it to myself, or someone would come along and steal it. And guess what, people HAVE come along and stolen stuff. And I got bent out of shape, I got really mad, I even once yelled at someone on the phone. Gross. Being afraid of sharing, being afraid of friends and being afraid of people in general is not how I want to live my life. AT ALL. So now I share, and I share as much as I can. This blog, and the mentoring we’ve been doing has been such a gift to me. I love thinking up all the things I can share, and I love seeing other photographers grow. And now no one can steal anything from me. Because I give it all away and that’s MY choice.