I started my photography business in 1999, sort of by accident.
Photography had always been something I loved, but I never thought it could be a job, let alone a career. It was just something I played around with on the weekend.
But in 1999 I was teaching kindergarten and struggling to get by on my teacher’s salary. For fun, I’d taken some maternity photos of a friend of mine, which she loved, and she suggested I start offering maternity photography on the side to supplement income.
Back then maternity photography was not what it is today. Very few photographers offered it. And I was pretty sure that NO one would pay me to take their picture.
But, I was desperate.
So I took the one good photo from my friend’s photoshoot, turned it into a postcard with my name and phone number printed on the back, and put that little postcard in every coffee shop, yoga studio and maternity store I could find.
To my astonishment, women started to call.
The next year, I decided to go down to part-time teaching so I could focus more on my photography. And a couple of years after that, I quit my teaching job altogether.
I’ve been a full-time photographer ever since.
To say the industry has changed since I started in 1999 is a colossal understatement.
In 1999 we all shot film. Hardly anyone had a website. There was no Facebook or Instagram. No blogs. Google had just started, but I certainly didn’t know what it was. If you wanted to look someone up, you used a phone book. And businesses relied on The Yellow Pages to get in front of potential clients.
Since 1999 I’ve witnessed the death of film as well as it’s rebirth. I’ve seen the rise of digital cameras, the advent of the “mom with a camera”, and the fear that that the industry is dying every time something new comes along (and something new is always coming along)
My business has survived the birth of my twins, the worst recession since the Great Depression, a global pandemic, and the fact that I have no formal training in photography or business.
Much has changed over the past 20+ years in all aspects of my life.
And yet, here I am.
That is is a question I ask myself all the time.
I’m not the most talented photographer to ever have walked the earth.
I haven’t done everything right.
I’ve made mistakes.
But I also made the choice early on to learn from those mistakes.
I don’t make excuses.
If something is not working in my business I don’t blame my competition or buy into the story that the market is too saturated for me to be successful. Instead, I look for solutions. I figure out what’s wrong and I fix it.
When I realized that inconsistency in my work was hurting my business and keeping me from growing my brand, for example, I fixed it by learning to create natural-looking light with strobes so that clients who came to me in the winter would receive the same quality of work as clients who came to me in the summer.
When I was struggling with marketing and the advent of social media, I fixed it by investing in classes and mentorships that helped me learn and helped my business grow.
Investing is key.
And I don’t shy away from it. After all these years, I still take classes. I still go to conferences. I hire mentors and I push myself to keep getting better.
It hasn’t always been easy.
I’ve had moments of hating what I do.
I’ve rebranded more than once.
I’ve been burned.
I’ve learned some things the hard way.
And I’ve thought about quitting, more than once.
The only thing that has stayed the same over the last 20+ years is the fact that things change all the time.
And if you want to stick around, you have to be okay with that.
The industry will evolve. Trends will come and go. Institutions will fall and new ones will rise up in their place.
The secret to building a long term career is not letting the changes scare you.
Balance knowing what you do and what works for your business with the ability to evolve and learn.
Know that there are no absolutes.
There is no one way to do something or be successful.
Be willing to get help when you need it and stick to your guns when it’s necessary.
Love your work.
Love your clients.
Know your craft and do it well.
And most importantly, learn, learn, learn.
The rules change every day, especially in business.
Stay on top of the changes and make adjustments as you go.