March 7, 2022
When I first dreamt up the idea of starting a photography business, it felt like literal sunshine and happiness. Getting to work from home, being paid to take photos and post on Instagram?! Hell yeah. It seemed easy enough to me. And it felt like freedom- freedom to succeed in a career I love, freedom to live a slow life, freedom to work when I want to and not work when I don’t want to, freedom to spend more time with my family, freedom to design a life that finally feeds my mental health.
Five years later, however, it doesn’t always feel like freedom. I quickly realized that starting a business from the ground up with zero prior business experience isn’t as exciting as Instagram can make it seem. Starting your own business often feels far from freedom. Quite frankly, it often feels like kicking and screaming and crying.
And so- this is what I wish I was told when starting my own photography business.
The excitement of running a business quickly wore off when I realized all that went into running a business. Simply taking photos and posting on Instagram wasn’t gonna cut it. It’s a constant challenge to always be learning a new skill set and it’s incredibly overwhelming. From marketing to taxes and EVERYTHING in between, you have a whole new set of skills to master. It won’t always be smooth sailing but there are plenty of online resources to get your feet off the ground. One of my favorites is Skillshare.
When you take it one step at a time and slowly add more tools to your tool belt, it will feel much more manageable. You also don’t need to have it all figured out before making your first move. With time and experience, comes wisdom. You’ll know what works for you and what doesn’t and can move at a pace that is healthy for you and your business.
I couldn’t tell you how many times when starting my business that I glanced over another person’s Instagram and website only to leave feeling like I failed in comparison. That person who you look up to so much and constantly compare yourself to most likely also feels the same way about someone else and someone else most likely is comparing themselves to you. It’s a vicious cycle that we often get ourselves into and it does nothing for our business or our mental health. Give yourself some grace. You’re doing better than you think you are.
Forgive me because I could rant about this one forever. In the beginning stages of my business, I looked to the big name creators and photographers for business advice. I spent a lot of time and money on people telling me to do “x,y,z and you’ll be successful just like me”. If it worked for them, it’ll work for me, right? Except it didn’t. And it took me a while to figure out why. It wasn’t that I wasn’t working hard enough or wasn’t talented enough. It was simply that the advice I was given wasn’t tailored to me, my lived experiences, my privilege, and my trauma. I was trying to run a business while pretending that none of these things affected my day-to-day life let alone my ability to run a business. (This information is sourced from Racheal B Turner, a Trauma Informed Business Coach. You can find more resources from Racheal at https://www.rachelturner.com/).
After taking into account how my trauma, privilege, and mental health affect the areas of my business that I was struggling with, I didn’t feel as much pressure to measure up to the expectations placed on me by those who live completely different realities than me. I was finally able to honestly assess the moves I did and didn’t need to make in my business and to go at a pace that was healthy and beneficial to my business. After adjusting my pricing, reevaluating my copy and marketing strategies, and adjusting my overall business goals to fit me and my values, I felt much more equipped to run a sustainable business.
It often feels like we don’t talk about the humanity of business. In fact, it feels like they’re almost opposites these days. If it’s not obvious already, running your own business is hella hard. I’ve shed a lot and I mean A LOT of tears over the years whether it’s from the stress of my business, stress of everyday life, or my mental health. You don’t have to shut off that part of you to be a professional in the business world. In my opinion, our humanity is what propels us into ethical business habits that sustains both us and our clients in the long run. So when you get that itch to compare yourself to others and think that everyone seems to be handling it all so well while you’re drowning, I promise you they’re not. They have their bad days too. And maybe the more we are honest about it, the better we all become.
There is virtually no way to ensure you never make a mistake when running your business. Especially in the beginning stages. Mistakes are inevitable. And because conflict is part of our humanity, mistakes with clients are especially inevitable. Like with anything in life, mistakes are what helps us learn and grow and it’s all about the next move after the fallout.
If I didn’t make it clear already, starting a photography business is hard. And that’s okay. As the great Glennon Doyle says, “We can do hard things”. I’d be lying if I said therapy was for everyone because as much as we hear it, some people may just not succeed in talk therapy. But I can tell you that whatever your hard thing is – your business, your relationships, school, your trauma, your mental health- getting the help you need, whatever it may look like, makes doing the hard things easier.
My intention with this blog post is not to scare off those who are contemplating starting a photography business, but to encourage those who are longing to feel free again. It took me a while to realize that freedom lies beyond the expectations of others and beyond my failures. Freedom lies within the understanding that your humanity must coexist within every aspect of your business because when you are free from hiding behind your business, you are free to exist within it. And if you need to kick, and scream, and cry, so be it.