Featured Contributor Michelle Huesgen shares her early lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations creatives made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories.
Here are Michelle’s top lessons learned from managing her own photography business.
Having a difficult time determining what you should be charging? One way to get a quick figure is to start with the amount you aim to earn each year. Add at least 30% to it for taxes and expenses (more if you have a studio) and then divide that by the number of sessions you generally average per year. Then take that number and work your sales/pricing to best achieve it! Editor’s Note: Check out Design Aglow’s Pricing Guides for Wedding and Portrait Photographers for more on this.
Do your research on your market. Find ways to set yourself apart from the crowd AND run a viable business. Invest in things that will grow your business in the long stretch… not the newest fad prop. If you want your business to succeed, you have to make smart decisions!
Before you know it, your side job is a seven-days-a-week job. Next thing you know your spouse resents your job, it is no longer fun for you, and your relationships are put on the back burner to make clients happy. Do yourself a favor: set business hours and stick to them. For me, business hours are 9-4 and Sundays are family day. My husband is a much happier man! ;)
Design Aglow’s Creative Writer & Editor Laura Lawson Visconti shares her early lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations creatives made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories.
I remember the first words the professor said to my Figure Drawing class my very first day attending art school.
“You are here because you chose to be here, not because you are talented.”
Come again? After years of taking oil painting lessons every weekend growing up, I had made the decision to study Fine Art, blissfully ignoring all the naysayers who told me being a creative wouldn’t amount to anything. And on my very first day of college I’m told that talent doesn’t exist…
I listened, wide-eyed, as my professor rattled on and on about how succeeding as an artist, as a creative, was a choice. Natural ability, while it certainly exists, can only take you so far without diligent work ethic and simply putting the time in… lots and lots of time.
The work would never find me. I had to find the work.
I put this mantra into practice. I became a “creative.” I fell in love with blogging and later writing. As the years have progressed, I have done every kind of creative work under the sun: publishing a book, painting, public speaking, social media, design, photography…
When you’re creative, it’s easy to say yes to every opportunity because oftentimes there just aren’t very many of them.
It probably sounds like I was working myself to the bone with a crazy hectic schedule every day, but in reality, I was completely overwhelmed by all that I had set out to accomplish for myself. Most days I didn’t know where to start first.
Trying to accomplish everything was stripping me of the possibility of accomplishing anything.
It was a tough realization, but eventually I had to face the facts: I was mediocre at a plethora of things and not excellent at any of them. So I decided to wear less hats. I stopped the juggling, and decided to pursue just writing for awhile, allowing time for other passions here and there as a way to recharge. I was a lot less stressed, and the best part? My writing got better.
Multitasking, a wonderful trait in and of itself, should not be your job description.
Putting the time in is just the first step — it’s knowing how to use your time wisely. Many highly successful entrepreneurs will tell you that from the time they started out, they knew what they were good at and which tasks to delegate to others. Just because you’re a creative does not mean you need to do every creative aspect of your business! Find others who specialize in those areas (like design or social media) and save your energy for what you’re truly passionate about.
Some of my favorite products here at Design Aglow are designed to equip you do just that, like our wonderful Big Picture Planner which allows you to focus on one goal at a time. Less burnouts = more productivity! Another great one is our brand new Virtual Postcards, a bundle of wonderful little marketing tools created to save you time and money so you can focus more on what you love.
Laura Lawson Visconti is the Creative Writer & Editor at Design Aglow. Her freelance writing has been published internationally. She recently released her first book Believing is Seeing, chronicling her journey battling retinitis pigmentosa. Laura lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and (sadly) no pets (yet).
Sara Brennan-Harrell shares her early lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations photographers made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure that you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories.
Eight years ago when I started my business, I struggled to find balance and happiness as a budding entrepreneur. I came to realize that I can’t do everything perfectly and that I could not be “the photographer” for everyone. Once I internalized those two thoughts I was able to make some smart business decisions that helped me follow my dream and stay true to myself.
Business Decision Number One: Do what you love and outsource the rest.
We all become photographers because we love photography, right?! I love shooting and meeting new people. I get almost giddy when I am having a great time with my clients and being creative on a photo shoot. This is what I love to do. I detest accounting, I do not love answering endless emails, I hate talking on the phone, I do not like making travel arrangements, I do not love painting my own studio, and I do not enjoy sewing backdrops.
When I first started out I did not feel like I could justify paying anyone to do these jobs because I was not making much money. On the contrary, what happened was that I spent so much time doing (and procrastinating doing) the things I dreaded, that I did not have the time and energy that I needed to invest in my business.
The best decision I made was to hire a studio manager to take care of the day-to-day details. I did not need someone full-time, and I did not have a lot of money, so I had to get creative. My studio manager works remotely and on her own time schedule. She takes care of all of my inquiries, bookings, scheduling, travel arrangements, invoicing, and accounting. It was amazing how much time I gained just by having someone to reply to my inquiries. Also, my booking rate jumped up when I hired her because she actually tracked the inquiries and followed up with people. When I was in charge of that, a lot of potential clients fell through the cracks because I was just too busy and, I admit it, too unorganized to track them. Our relationship works out great because she is a mom to three very busy kids and only wants to work part time. My studio manager is also a good sales person, very organized, and great at accounting. She loves her job and the flexibility that she has. Because of her help, I now have more time to do the parts of my job that I love.
I do enjoy editing my own photos, but as my business has grown over the years I found that I was spending way too much time at the computer and not enough time with my family. I knew I had to make a change. This was another pivotal time in my business because as a creative person, it is so hard to let go of any part of the creative process. But because I know that my favorite part of my job is shooting, I decided it was time to hire an editor. I now have someone who edits my weddings, and when I get really busy she also edits some portraits. I still look over every photo and make some tweaks, but this system cuts my computer time down by a ton! I was apprehensive about outsourcing my editing because I was worried that the look of my work would change. Quite honestly, I was also worried about the effect on my bottom line, but having an editor has made me a much happier person and I am able to do more shoots now that I am not tied to my computer every day.
Business Decision Number Two: Stick to your style.
One of the biggest mistakes that I made in the beginning of my career was letting my clients direct the shoot. I often found myself unhappy with the way a session went because I was not shooting from the heart. I was trying to please people and shoot in a way that was not authentic for me as an artist. So after almost 2 years in business I rebranded, working very hard to create a signature look for Whitebox. I only showed photos on my blog and website that I loved so that people would choose Whitebox because they felt a connection to my images. It was difficult to turn down clients that were not the right fit for me, but I was so much happier when I was able to shoot the way that I wanted and in the style that I loved. I realized that it is OK to refer someone to another photographer if your vision does not meet their needs. It makes me so happy when people say that they can tell that an image is a Whitebox photo just by looking at it, just as it is so fulfilling to working with clients who understand your style and appreciate your work.
Lessons learned: be true to yourself, and your clients will love you for it!
Sara Brennan-Harrell is the owner + photographer of Whitebox Photo. She specializes in lifestyle photography of families, kids and grads. Sara feels lucky to do what she loves everyday: photographing happy people in fun locations around the world. In between editing and shooting she can be found on her farm in North Carolina working in the garden or feeding her flock of chickens. When not on the farm, she and her family are working their way through the states in their Winnebago, Bessie. She is also featured in the Design Aglow Posing Guide for Family Portrait Photography.
Design Aglow founder Lena Hyde kicks off our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations photographers made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure that you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories.
When I first started out as a photographer, I shot film….digital wouldn’t be on the mass market for another 10 years or so. I knew that developing a 4×6” image cost just as much–in time, labor, and materials–as an 8×10” (actually more, since I had to cut the paper straight!) but I assumed the value of smaller prints equaled less, just like 99% of photographers out there did, and still do.
Fast forward a decade, to my transition to a digital studio, and the small print sales were still a sore spot for me. I was only charging a $20 price difference between a 4×6” and 5×7”, and my costs were virtually the same in time spent and actual printing. 8×10”s were another $20 more and again, not much difference in my COGS.
Every time a client ordered 4x6s of the portraits I worked so hard to create for them, my self esteem would die a little bit and my final sale would be just as sad. One day, in the early 2000′s, I thought, “this does not have to be!” I did not work this hard to be a scrapbook photographer. I was going to try something new, something radical. I was going to make all portraits 8×10” and under the same price. I never saw this done before and was prepared for a client uprising.
Publishing that new price list that said “Prints 8×10” and under are all $45” (remember this was 9+ years ago) scared the bejesus out of me and I didn’t sleep well that week. Each night instead of sleeping, I thought of the 659 questions that would no doubt come my way at my upcoming order sessions. I thought about the scrapbook moms that would be furious since they had already made 3 years of layouts with my images cut up to form themed pages full of sequins and foamy letters. I thought of the calls, where new clients would ask about my starting portrait prices…and they were now 3x more than last week.
But I had my strategy. I would tell clients that I did not want to be a scrapbook photographer. I would tell them that small prints take just as much time to create as large prints. I would tell them I wanted them to enjoy their images big and beautiful, not with faces smaller than a thumbprint.
To be honest, the questions never really came. Maybe once or twice a month, but with more practice in this conversation, the more confidence I gained and the more clients respected my choices.
Though my prices have increased over the years, my prints 8×10” and under remain all one price. And guess what? I can’t even remember the last time I sold a 4×6! Over the years, I have traced the extra income derived from this one simple change and it has been huge. I encourage every single photographer I teach or consult with to do the same. And you know what? Not one has ever told me it didn’t help them increase their bottom line by a significant amount….
What change would you like to make but are afraid to move forward with? Pinpoint what your objections are (or your clients’ objections might be), and prepare a list of talking points to deal with them. Like me, your clients will most likely accept these new policies as part of your business and move forward without any concern. And, if questions arise, you are prepared to have a conversation. After all, this is your business and you are the one who decides what works best for you!
Wondering if your own pricing system will keep you afloat for the long run? Design Aglow recommends our Essential Pricing Guides for Portrait and Wedding Photographers for the formula to smart pricing, strong foundations, and higher profits.
For the last 15 years, Lena Hyde has been transforming the way her clients view photography through her stunning philosophy of life as art, and by fine art photography for her discerning Palm Beach clientele. With advanced degrees in photography and art history, Lena is highly capable in both the technical and aesthetic possibilities of her craft. Also frequently published and internationally exhibited, Lena speaks as a respected expert in the field of contemporary childhood photography. Her studio and offices are headquartered in West Palm Beach, at Muses & Visionaries, an innovative co-working space for women she cofounded in 2010.
Lena is the creator of both Design Aglow, the leading design and business success resource for portrait and wedding photography studios since 2006, and of Project Life 365, an inspiring online global community of artists. Lena has recently authored two photography books, to be released to an international audience of professional photographers by Random House in 2013.
Lena’s photography and businesses have been featured in Professional Photographer Magazine, Rangefinder Magazine, Click! Magazine, Maeve Magazine (Australia), Palm Beach Illustrated, the Palm Beach Post, the Sun Sentinel, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Country Life Magazine (UK), The San Francisco Chronicle, Palm Beach Young Society Magazine, City & Shore Magazine, and Whole Living Magazine.
In her free time, Lena enjoys traveling with her husband and two young boys.