Top Ten List – If I Knew Then, What I Know Now

It was about four years ago that I decided I wanted to be a professional photographer. I always enjoyed taking pictures, but now I was getting quite a few comments about how good my pictures were. It got me thinking. If I didn’t have to go back to teaching after my kids were all in school, that would be awesome. I loved being a teacher, but the workload was tuff, even without having four children to care for. I couldn’t imagine going back to that schedule. Photography would be a great profession. I could make my own hours and I would be doing something that I love. How hard could it be?

Well, first of all I really needed to learn how to use my camera. Taking pictures in the “P mode” was not going to cut it. “P” did not stand for professional. Besides the camera, there was so much more I needed to learn. This sounded like it was going to be an easy process, but I soon learned it was going to be a lot more work than I had expected.

I figured I would share just a few of my experiences as my Top Ten List for the week. By no means do I think, in my four short years of building my business, I have all the answers. I am learning on a daily basis. However, it would have been nice to have known a few of these things when I first started. Hopefully, it may help someone out or prevent them from making the same mistakes I made.

1. Join a Community of Photographers

When I made the move to becoming a professional photographer, I wanted to take every opportunity to learn more about my camera and get out to shoot. I joined a meet-up group on Meetup.com, the Chicagoland Digital Photography group. They always went on the coolest outings and the images they produced were amazing. I couldn’t wait to join the fun. One small problem, children on photography shoots with somewhat serious photographers, never seemed to be a smart decision. I then had an idea. I would start my own meet-up group. Chicago Moms Digital Photography group was born. We had some great field trips, but the group never reached its full potential. I had a vision of what I wanted the group to become and it just wasn’t happening.

After about 6 months I moved the group from Meetup.com to Facebook. We are now, Chicago Moms Who Love Digital Photography. This group has evolved into a great forum for photographers of all levels. Many of us even have our own business. It is great to be able to help each other out. Whether, it be sharing ideas on photo sessions, business advice, or just an ear to vent about the struggles of motherhood, it has been a wonderful resource.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a community of photographers. Too often we consider other photographers as competition. Once you can except the fact that we can learn so much from each other, it becomes an amazing support system.

2. Find People with Answers

This one goes hand in hand with #1. Once I surrounded myself with other photographers, I also found people that had many of the answers to my questions. One particular group was the Chicago Smug group. An excellent group of photographers, willing to share what they now about photography and the business of photography. I can’t even begin to tell you how much help this group has been. I have wrote on numerous occasions about their meetings and the invaluable information I walk away with every month.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to find a community of photographers. Too often we consider other photographers as competition. Once you can except the fact that we can learn so much from each other, it becomes an amazing support system.

I have also recently been introduced to the Women’s Business Development Center. This group deserves a post all on their own, however they were mentioned in a post titled “Networking and Chocolate, Yum! I look forward to all the advice and guidance this group will provide me. Big meeting on June 1st to start moving my business in the right direction.

3. Rent Equipment

When I first started upgrading my equipment, I purchased everything. With a visit to Amazon.com and a few clicks of my mouse I was soon to be visited by brown boxes with big smiles displayed on the side. This always made me happy. I can’t say the same for my husband.

Unfortunately, the equipment I was purchasing was expensive and I wasn’t even sure if it was what I actually needed.

When I photographed a wedding in Mexico this past January, I asked people in the Chicago Smug group what lenses needed to be in my camera bag. The 70-200mm f/2.8 was on everyone’s list. My first thought was I need to buy this lens. However, I didn’t have enough time. It was suggested to me that I should rent it for the weekend. Then a friend of mine (a fellow Chicago Moms Who Love Digital Photography member) mentioned Dodd Camera. I knew renting equipment was always an option, I just always wanted to own instead. Dodd Camera is just one in a sea of rental stores, but I did find them to be so knowledgable and great people to work with. I rented the 70-200mm and loved it. It is definitely on the list of lenses I would like to own.

I will continue to rent equipment before purchasing, to be sure it is what I want. However, this doesn’t apply to the 5D Mark III. I know I want that!

One of my favorites from the Mexico wedding using the 70-200mm f/2.8

4. Research Products Before Buying

As mentioned in #3, I was all about, buy, buy buy. I can’t say that I am completely rehabilitated, but I try to be a little smarter about things. I think it is a good practice to do a little research on the products you wish to purchase. It might not be as sophisticated as researching with Consumer Reports, but as simple as reading the reviews of past customers. Being a big Amazon.com customer, I always read the reviews left by purchasers. It’s just one step in becoming more knowledgable about the product.

Seeing that I have purchased about a half dozen light diffusers, I am slowly realizing that financially, it makes sense to know about the products you plan to purchase. Don’t be so quick to buy, even if you think it will solve all of your problems. The reality is, it probably won’t.

5. Avoid Too Many Deals

When I first started off, I offered deal after deal. I even went as far as to sign-up for a Groupon type company and sell my services for next to nothing. After I made the deal I went into panic mode. Why would I want to work so hard and take time away from my family, and be paid peanuts? It didn’t make any sense. After having my deal up for 90 days I was able to remove it from the site. I was relieved that I had not sold one session. However, I was completely bummed that I had not sold one session. I came to the conclusion that I was not gaining any respect from potential clients, by giving my services away. I needed to show that I considered my capabilities good enough to be paid fairly. From that moment on, I stayed clear of the “Great Deals”.

6. Tap into Your Neighborhood

I have lived in my house for close to 9 years and the other day I met a neighbor for the first time. It is a sad reality, but we find ourselves so absorbed in our own lives that we miss trying to make connections with those around us.

This past October I joined my neighborhood’s chamber of commerce, Northcenter Chamber of Commerce. I have also become more active in school functions that help promote my business. It has been the best thing that has happened for my business. Whether it was the Holiday Market at my children’s school or a Trick-or-Treat event in town square, by becoming more involved in the community I have seen an increase in clients. Not to mention, it has been so nice to do little to no traveling for photo sessions. I love being able to walk out of the house 20 minutes before a session and know I will arrive early.

7. Invest Wisely into Workshops

I have been bombarded with “experts” and “highly trained” individuals in the profession, that want to teach me everything they know. It’s easy to get sucked into, what sounds to be an excellent educational experience, only to walk out questioning if it was worth your time and money.

It is always a good idea to fully check out the workshops before paying to attend. There have been times that the deal was so good, I couldn’t pass it up. I found myself pressing the purchase button before I even knew everything that was going to be covered.

There are plenty of “experts” that charge hundreds of dollars for a brief moment of their time and expertise. Unfortunately, you may find yourself being taught information you already know and that big “AHA” moment you were so hoping to have, never happens. Be sure you are investing in a workshop that will be well worth the money spent.

I have found Creative Live on-line workshops to be an excellent resource of information. Most of the workshops are a weekend worth of information and usually cost around $99. I can’t tell you how nice it is to watch at your own pace and then have the luxury of watching over again, if so desired. I owe a member of the Chicago Moms Who Love Digitally Photography for introducing me to the site. I love it!

8. Stay Organized

This is one area in which I wish I would have kept up with from day one. I am now up to my eyeballs in unedited personal photos, business receipts, client emails and countless other home related “To Dos”. At times it becomes a little overwhelming. If I could do it all over again, I would have made sure I did things a little different.

a. I would have kept on top of my personal pictures, being sure to edit right after taking them and then uploading them to my Shutterfly site (I plan on discussing this subject more in another post for another day). Unfortunately, now I have pictures as far back as October 2011 to edit and upload.

b. I would have logged and categorized all business receipts. It makes tax time so much easier. Currently, I have a storage box with all expense receipts for 2012.

c. I would have created a database with client information (email addresses, phone numbers, addresses and other important things to know). Generating emails and newsletters on business news would have been so much easier. Presently, I have a folder titled “Completed Sessions” with all emails regarding past sessions. Not a hint of organization to be found.

Get organized right from the start, your business will thank you and your sanity will be grateful too. I can only hope my Time Management Tips pay off and allow me some time to get my act together.

9. Don’t Be So Sensitive

I learned this one the hard way.

So, like I mentioned in the beginning of this post (which seems like days ago), I had plenty of friends and family saying that I took great photos. Little did I know that not everyone would agree. There have been times when a review from a client lacked a bit of enthusiasm or a response to posted pictures wasn’t received within the first 24 hours (on occasion, as long as a week). Hearing a not so glowing review is one thing, but not hearing anything at all is down right mind boggling. It usually ends with a satisfied costumer, but those days of not knowing are complete torture. I eventually, started to realize that even though my photography business was very important to me, for others it was a service, that didn’t always take center stage in people’s lives.

I have also been in the process of becoming a certified professional photographer. It is here that my skin has thickened. Currently, I have submitted three portfolios to be judged by a panel of professional photographers and have been rejected three times. Even though I do not enjoy being rejected, the feedback I have received has been critical in becoming a better photographer.

10. It’s Not as Easy as it Looks

Even though I started this business adventure four years ago, it really has been the past year and a half that have made all the difference in the world. So much has happened. I feel confident that I can be successful, however I realized quickly it was not going to happen without a great deal of hard work. I don’t think I will ever stop learning and finding new ways to improve my business. I truly believe these are two main reasons that some businesses succeed while others fail.

I’m sure as the months and years go by, I will face even more obstacles and challenges. I will most likely look back at this post and laugh at what I perceived as the “difficult times”. One thing that I do know is I will continue to share my experiences, good and bad. Let’s hope the good outweighs the bad!

One thought on “Top Ten List – If I Knew Then, What I Know Now

  1. Kathy May 22, 2012 / 3:13 am

    Nothing is as easy as it looks. However, your photos seem effortless. Just point and shoot – however that explains why mine are not as focused, as yours. I never used the dial for sun, fast, ect. on my camera. Now I know why they never looked like the examples. One suggestion for your data base of names and email. High school students need service hours if you still have teenage family members thats a great summer service or perhaps for retirees. to keep their minds fresh. Keep up the good work 🙂

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