Through The Lens: Lessons Learned as a Photography Business Owner

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Bohemian Visions is a year old! From the time (she) was an idea written in my journal while serving in the Army, I learned a great deal about being a business owner. I had been a photographer for several years. I was already proficient in the art of photography. Being a business owner was a different situation in its entirety. I wanted to be a legitimate business owner. I owned my domain, established a professional business email, and created products for marketing to start. The first six months were a rude eye opener. I thought because my talent as a photographer was there and I had a website the clients would come rolling through. In the words of Maury, “…..that was a lie.”

Looking back there were some things I learned during my transition training and there were some things I wasn’t prepared for. I am still going through the trenches. This is still fresh and it’s not a quick fix, or a linear trajectory to success that is easy to follow. I will say success is what you make of it and how you define it. If you allow outside agencies to define success for you, you will fail. This is written for a broad audience who may be thinking about going into business for themselves.

If I had to offer some advice or notes to someone transitioning out of the military or another career to become an entrepreneur it would be this:

1. Understand the operations and logistics of your business. You are going to spend more time doing that than the actual trade. Develop systems for tracking and staying organized. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs will save your business. Nest your systems into your schedule. This is extremely important if you are a business of one. Even though you are solo, at some point as your business grows, you are going to consider hiring some people. Start creating positions based on the tasks you are willing to let go. Receptionist, assistant, social media manager, etc. You are also responsible for creating systems you will be training your new hires on. Outsourcing is a cheaper option to help run your business. Just remember that if you contract out your services speak with a Certified Tax Accountant to generate a IRS form 1099.

2. Marketing will take up a good portion of your time. If you are really bad at it or just hate doing it, look into outsourcing. There are firms who specialize in small business marketing. I realized that this is one of my weakest areas. After six months of spending thousands on paid digital ads I realized that I really sucked at it. Personally I would not spend six months on something that’s not working. As an owner you really have to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t waste money and time on something that’s not working.

3. Good Marketing means nothing if you can’t close the deal. I am still dealing with this now. Another area that is a weakness. I know how to talk to people, but I hate selling to folks. I know my business and the services I provide. Where I realized I was going wrong is receiving organic inquiries and no one was purchasing a session fee and booking their session. I was receiving compliments on my work, but no one was committing to the sale. Practice and pay attention to how brands sell to you. Pay attention to how you decide on making a purchase.

4. Know your Market, Know your industry. In Sun Tzu’s Art of War, not knowing yourself and your enemy you are guaranteed to fail. Same applies to business. You need to do research on your competitors, where do you rank on online searches, and knowledge of the growth projections within your industry in the next couple of years. Who is your target demographic? This took me eight months to learn and I am still learning. What I think my target market is, may not be the case. You will fail, it’s ok, just don’t give up. It’s going to feel frustrating.

5. Network with folks in your industry. You are not alone. It may feel like it but you are not. Not everyone in your industry is your enemy, if you approach it like that you will fail. As an artist I am cautious, protecting your intellectual property is sacred. You can protect your IP and still network with others. It may turn into a collaborative project. Find the win win in every relationship. Network with agencies that can compliment your business. For example, since I am a photographer I network with lingerie stores, venues, and videographers to name a few. Conferences are a great way to network with folks in your industry.

6. Carve out time for professional development. If there is a certification or license get it. It adds to the credibility of your business. Professional development isn’t limited to online training. Workshops, conferences that offer mini workshops, reading and YouTube videos. Make time to spend 3o minutes daily reading or listening to an audio book.

7. Mentorship, whether paid or free, get it. Having a mentor will provide the 30K Foot perspective that you may not see on the ground. I will admit as a business of one, the relationships you create will help shape the scope of your business. I am still learning and growing, making mistakes along the way. I have a business coach who takes my goals and gives me avenues to accomplish it. The decision to hire a coach stemmed from a book I read; the best performers all had a coach. If you want to be the best, hire a professional that will take you and your business to the next level. I made the decision and it’s the best decision ever. There is no way I could have taken Bohemian Visions to where it is now in less than a year.

8. Manage your expectations of failing. In my time as an officer in the Army, I was ingrained the mission will not fail. Failure is not an option. Oh boy, that mantra is so wrong. I failed everyday. Some mistakes were so expensive that they made me cringe and shake my head. While some mistakes have forced me to change my systems. Failure is the best teacher in business. Some failures will sting more than others. Take the emotions out. Conduct an after action review of what was supposed to happen versus how the event happened. Take detailed notes and adjust. Take this info back to your mentor or business coach and look at it for the 30k view. Ultimately you are the Boss, but you have to be humble in knowing that you will not have this straight line path to success or profits.

9. In order to grow, be prepared to be uncomfortable and get used to being uncomfortable. Discomfort keeps me on my toes. Having people in my circle that will push me outside of my comfort zone is important. When the urge to push back happens, take your emotions out. If fear of failing is stopping you from growing then your business will fail. There have been times when my coach would recommend a course of action. I have pushed back on it, or if I couldn’t quite grasp the vision I would table it and revisit at a later time. I have pushed back on the idea because it took away from the core values of the brand or I was unsure of the return on investment. Sometimes I pushed back because I simply didn’t like it. But if enough information was provided I conceded. Approach every idea or opportunity as objectively as possible. You never know what you pushed back on will actually be your success or increased profits.

10. Remember why you decided to go into business and became an owner. That passion and love will be the fuel you will need for those rough moments. Those moments you start to question why did you do this. It has kept me from having moments of doubt that would cause me to quit. It has suppressed this monster called Imposter Syndrome. Your passion and love to bring a service or a good to the world and will guide you. I am still in the trenches and I will continue to grind. When it is no longer fun, when you forget the passion, remember why you made the leap.

11. Slow down and enjoy the journey of the process. In the Army everything would go so fast that once the mission was executed and completed I never took the time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I make it a point to celebrate all the small wins. As an owner you control the pace of the train. You are the conductor. Sometimes a tactical pause is needed to reflect and process. It is still surreal I am the owner and founder. The weight of the business is on my shoulders.

12. Have an annual performance goal. As an operations officer in the Army I was responsible for drafting an annual training guidance and a quarterly training guidance. I found this was very helpful in meeting the commander’s intent. In my business I took it a step further. I created an annual performance objective, then quarterly and monthly. I also have an action chart and calendar. I have a daily and weekly routine. In the military it’s called a battle rhythm. I have set rules that am strict about following based on my organization’s routine.

13. Carve out time to give back. Pro Bono work, community service, passion projects are all ideas that will allow you to not only work on projects you find important but also give you space to work with other businesses outside of your network.

Here’s how I manage my week:

Monday through Wednesday Internal staff meetings and administrative actions like writing, editing photos, ordering marketing swag for clients, ordering albums and wall art. On special occasions I will have a photoshoot.

Wednesdays will be some after hours networking social or networking meeting.

Thursdays- followup on the network, manage correspondence mainly from a networking event and self care. Self Care Thursday is my “me time” to have solitude and recharge myself. If I have a photoshoot that day or I am traveling I will fit my self care in the morning.

Friday-Sunday Photoshoot session as the majority of my clients schedule their session on the weekends.

I will not schedule more than 4 meetings in a day. There needs to be a one hour gap in between meetings. A 5–10 minute break in between meetings is not productive at all. It is mentally taxing. This includes internal meetings. Everything to include my personal events must go on a calendar. Color code your calendar so at a glance you will know if your appointment or event is personal or work related. Adding everything to your calendar will avoid double booking. I refuse to have anything briefed on powerpoint. Three documents only. The Calendar, Action Chart, and Performance Objectives.

I am still learning and growing as a business owner and these lessons are still fresh on my mind. I think it’s good to read the perspective of an owner who is in the storm navigating and finding success during the journey versus someone who is at the end. Both perspectives are good. This is me taking a pause and enjoying the journey. I look forward to reflecting back when Bohemian Visions is entering year five and again when it celebrates year ten.

Do You, Be you, Love you
Bohemian Life

Passionate Writer thats writes about anything. Boudoir Photographer & Owner of Bohemian Visions. Check out other content here:

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