In 2007, I decided to change careers and enrolled in the New England School of Photography with the goal of becoming a professional photographer. I spent two hard (expensive) years learning the craft and technique of photography; how to make excellent pictures, how to work with varying light situations, how to maximize the features on today’s newest cameras. In 2009, I graduated with a Certificate in Professional Photography and launched my own business.
Next month, I will have been in business as a commercial photographer for 3 years. I am not even close to being “established” but in the 5 years since I set out on this path, I have finally begun to envision what the future of my business looks like.
Yesterday, I met with my fabulous counselor at SCORE, an arm of the Small Business Administration. Every month he and I sit down and go over numbers, solve problems, make a plan for the next month. Since I began meeting with him last fall, my business has definitely grown. But yesterday I sat down and said, “I want my business to grow more, and I don’t know how.” He looked me in the eye and said, “It’s time that you learn how to sell.”
The way I see it, for the first two years I was in business as a photographer, I was in school learning editorial and wedding photography, dabbling in photojournalism and discovering my passion for visual storytelling. Then I graduated from school and spent a year just figuring out how to be a professional photographer. I made a website and business cards; I learned how to work with clients, price jobs, deliver products. I held a couple of part-time jobs and I cried a lot and was always nervous about the future. In my second year of business, I built upon these foundations of business-ownership. I upgraded to a new and better website and blog. I built up my presence on social media sites. I developed a brand and a logo. I created accounting systems. I learned about Search Engine Optimization. I networked like a crazy person and built a list of prospective clients. I started producing a monthly email newsletter that I send to over 125 people. I made more money and bought new equipment. I learned how to describe my business: editorial and event photography serving families, restaurants, non-profit groups, universities and small businesses in New England.
Now, I am entering my 5th year of business and as my counselor told me yesterday, it is time to learn how to sell. Creating a system for selling and learning how to sell confidently is a brand new challenge for me; I am starting at ground zero. The first thing I am going to do is analyze my workflow and my time management, to find out how I can work more efficiently and make time for direct selling. Then, of course, I will learn just how to make those cold calls and actually see results. How not to go into a selling situation assuming I will be rejected, but how to anticipate the clients’ needs ahead of time and communicate, confidently, that I can fulfill their photographic and communications needs.
It’s been 5 years and I am finally able to see a glimpse of my business’s trajectory. The fear that I am going to fail is much less prominent in my mind today; it has been replaced by a new confidence that my business will continue to grow. I see many challenges ahead – selling is absolutely terrifying, actually – but in looking back I can see that challenges can be surmounted and overcome. There is a lesson in here about faith, but I am not a good enough writer to break that down here without it sounding incredibly cheesy. So use your imaginations.
Tomorrow, I will go to my 10-year college reunion. I never would have guessed the rollercoaster that would bring me here, to being in business for myself and building a career out of my passion for photography. With incredible clarity I can all of a sudden see my successes and failures – and all of those yet to come – and know that I am doing alright. Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far in this journey.