I hadn't even owned my first professional camera for a week when I began e-mailing photographers. I asked for advice and tips, offered to carry bags, grab coffee and assist at shoots. I was passionate. I was fired up! And I was ready to start my own journey with photography. I desperately wanted a peek into a world that I knew almost nothing about.
I remember getting some good advice, some really terrible advice and, more often than not, no reply at all. We all have to start somewhere though, and I wasn't discouraged. One photographer in particular was exceptionally helpful and looking back I am astounded he took the time to answer a girl with a camera, who didn't even know the first thing about shooting in manual. Much of the advice I received back then I can't recall, but one thing he said has forever remained with me as I grow as an artist.
"Never stop chasing the light."
Whew, did you just get goosebumps, too? Maybe it is just me, but there is something so romantic and timeless to a statement like that, and it has irrevocably shaped how I approach photography.
If you are a business owner, chances are you can think back to some singular moment or piece of advice that has stuck with you. Today we want to share our best pieces of advice we've received over the years. Maybe it won't give you goosebumps, but we hope some of the things we have learned along the way can help you in a small (or large!) way.
From Michaela on Design
1. Design isn't as it looks on HGTV.
On my first day of design school, my professor started out with a bang. She said with a smile, "If you're here because HGTV looks fun, you might as well walk out now." Talk about a way to start my freshman year of college! Of course, choosing to major in interior design wasn't an idea I pulled out of thin air. My grandma was a designer, so when I was younger I would go on jobs with her. Thankfully, I was able to see first-hand how much more involved it is than how they portray design on TV, but I remember some of the other girls in class possibly rethinking their decision.
Design, whether you're an interior, event, or graphic designer, is hard work. It's hard in a way that being a lawyer or a doctor isn't, but, nonetheless it comes with it's challenges. Items you ordered and were given an eight week lead-time will without fail be delayed, contractors won't come through, you'll source and re-select items until your picky client is perfectly happy, and you'll need the knowledge to properly mark up products you are selling to your clients. These are all circumstances that aren't seen on TV and designers have to successfully navigate all of them, in order to keep their business afloat.
Instead of scaring me off, my professor's statement actually made me grateful for her honesty and has since given me comfort. Instead of going in with false hope, thinking everything would run smoothly, I went into my business prepared for the hard work. All successful businesses, even creative ones, take hard work (sorry, no fairy dust here!) so when struggles do occur, I can take heart and remember this is expected. Real life design doesn't happen in a 30 minute episode.
photo via Monica Wang Photography
2. Continue Recomposing Your Vignettes. Don't Settle.
While I had the opportunity to shadow Emily Henderson, an interior designer I look up to and watched win HGTV's Design Star, back in college, I learned a number of things about styling. I was shadowing her on a shoot for Good Housekeeping, and helping her with things she needed around the shoot. I noticed she was working very closely with the photographer with every shot. After each shot, she would step back, look at the shot through the camera view finder and reevaluate what needed to be moved. It usually took her 20-30 tries of recomposing before they got "the shot"!
This taught me two important lessons in one. First, don't settle. Move, play with, and recompose until you get the styled vignette just right. Second, work closely with photographers. They want to make your design look the best it can, and as the designer or stylist, it's your duty to be sure it's exactly how you want it. Compositions look different to the naked eye than they do through the camera, so keep tweaking the set-up until it's reading the way you want it to through the lens.
From Ashley on Photography
3. Photograph everything. Then specialize.
If you are starting your own business, you might have an idea of the types of clients or events you'd like to cater to. When I began photography I was sure I wanted to be a family, children and newborn photographer. I didn't want anything to do with weddings because I didn't think I would enjoy it at all. Fast forward four years and now I specialize in weddings.
Limiting yourself at the beginning of your business can be dangerous. Instead, try everything. Shoot all the things, in all the places. Try studio lighting. Try natural lighting. Work with babies. Work with families. Assist at weddings and see what the fuss is all about. If you are designer try your hand at different design styles. Wedding planner? Take on different clients with varying event styles and needs. Your strengths and weaknesses will quickly begin to present themselves and you will find what makes you the happiest. I found that posed newborn photography wasn't for me, and instead of feeling guilty turning down these sessions, I feel confident knowing that someone else will get the job done better for that client and I can focus on sessions and events that fall within my niche.
Statistics show that businesses who specialize in a particular type of photography, design or product do better than ones that offer a one-size-fits-all service. Clients want someone who is an expert in their field, someone who offers a product or environment that makes them feel a certain way. Just like we talked about on our blog last week, when you try and reach everyone the end result will be that you reach no one. DO better than those who offer a one-size-fits-all service. It is important we find where we shine and hone in on our talent and skills.
Ashley Slater Photography
4. Don't Be Afraid to Make Mistakes.
I can't even begin to tell you how nervous I was working my first wedding. I wanted to come across as confident and like I knew what I was doing even though I was freaking out on the inside. During bride and groom portraits I posed my couple and started snapping away. Immediately I knew these were not good photos. The sun was flaring far too much, the way I had positioned the bride's arm made her look like an amputee and the groom's coat was buttoned and puckering in all the wrong places. Instead of speaking up and saying "You know what guys, let's actually open that suit jacket and try a different pose," I stayed mute and continued photographing. I was terrified that if I admitted that my initial instincts weren't quite right, I would look like an amateur. In reality, not feeling confident in communicating that something wasn't working was really what made me the amateur in that moment.
Since that first wedding, I have come to realize that not everything works all the time, and that is okay! It has only been by trying different things and taking risks, that I have developed my style and skill. You won't know what you are capable of, or if you are missing out on creating something amazing, if you don't take the chance. Now if something isn't working, I just say it and move on to try something else instead of wasting precious time and memory card space. I would much rather do that and deliver phenomenal images, than keep my mouth shut and deliver sub-par photos to clients.
On Business & Blogging
5. Blog Consistently
Two of the first bloggers I, Michaela, emailed asking for blogging advice, before even starting my own blog, were Emily A. Clark and Mackenzie Horan. They both told me a few of the same things, so I knew it was good advice. The biggest thing that stood out to me was when they said to blog consistently. If this is 3 times a week or 7 days a week, just be sure to do it consistently. Readers will continue coming back if they can expect new content when you tell them it will be there. Posting at the same time everyday is also key in helping engrain in your readers that you are a dependable, consistent force in the blogging world. At the core, readers and followers crave content where they learn something or where you are giving them inspiration. If you fail to do it consistently, they will certainly find it elsewhere.
6. Always Collect Payment Before Working.
Money is always an uncomfortable issue when it comes to running a business. If you are the type of business that works with clients, communicating pricing, payments and contracts can be daunting. Set yourself up for success and be confident. If you work with contracts have a lawyer in your state review it with you to ensure you are covered legally. While we hope we never run into legal issues with clients and customers it is vital you protect yourself and your business. Never start working before you have received payment. Upon signing a contract, your client's should be putting down some sort of a non-refundable retainer.
Also worth noting is a piece of advice we have both received. Quit offering deals and discounts to friends of friends and distant family members. Decide in your mind who, if anyone, you will offer discounts or trades to, and then boldly draw the line. While we all know a passion and desire are a vital foundation for business, the bottom line is that we are in this to provide for our well-being. Desire and passion alone doesn't pay the bills. You aren't a charity so don't act like one and don't feel bad when someone isn't willing to pay for you. We promise that the clients that value your services will find you and be loyal to you.
We would love to know hear what type of advice has stuck with you throughout your own business. Comment below to let us know!