1 | Seeking validation through input
If you follow me on Instagram, you know I am a huge fan of inspirational memes, poetry, inspiring quotes, etc. I posted a quote about a year ago and decided to reuse a part of it as the premise for the rest of this post:
“Live your life according to YOUR vision and purpose instead of seeking the opinions and validation of others.”
Early in my career I always second guessed myself - let me rephrase, I second-guessed my gut. Invariably it turned out my first instinct was the right course of action but rarely did I listen. Instead, I would bounce it off everyone, which does have its advantages as long as it’s done in a healthy and pragmatic manner. Your voice matters most; others can offer insights and perspective, but ultimately the decision and its fallout, good or bad, is yours.
This is your life, your business, your reality. “Make your own damn decisions, man!” is what I often say to myself. Listen to your heart first - it’s usually the loudest and most resonating voice of reason. Do your own research, stay informed, dedicate the time to educate yourself on the topic/decision, and then go with what feels right. Easy Peasy!
2 | Differentiation
I am currently reading Principles by Ray Dialo - recommended to me by my two-person book club Prez, Andy K. The premise of the book is about defining the experience you offer uniquely for your customers. Understand what you stand for and ask yourself questions like, “What are your beliefs?” and “What is the core of your business and your personal essence?”
All my life, people, starting with my father, have been telling me how to live my life. I even dated a woman who tried to change my entire personality to fit inside her little bubble. Can I say this out loud - FUCK THAT!
Don’t let anyone else define you.
Early in my career, I tried to be everything for everyone and never stopped to define what my business stood for. Today, I can clearly identify who we are: we are curators of adventurous, fun, and intimate photography; we travel the world; we take on clients who value the process we put into each and every session, and who appreciate the experience just as much as they value the photograph.
Having these principles in place has allowed me to filter my marketing and focus on my ideal client. I no longer try to be everything to everyone; I am so confident in my process and my photography that I now turn away clients who do not align with our photography mission.
What makes your business different than mine? Notice I said different, not better. My difference works for my specific clients whom I seek to connect with. Find out what your defining principles are for your clients, what your mission is, and work your magic consistently. You will no doubt win clients and form authentic connections.
Remember, there are plenty of “thems” everywhere. There is only one of “you.”
- Be yourself.
- Define what makes your product unique.
- Define your principles and what you believe in.
- Live that and deliver that magic to your clients with a spoonful of sugar.
3 | Pricing
Admittedly, pricing has always been the greatest thorn in my side. I am an artist, not an accountant - but that can’t be an excuse for ignorance or avoidance. Let me tell you how shit used to go down.
Google, Yahoo, Bing...whoever was the ruler of the interweb search kingdom back in my early years, I would dive in and find anything. For real, I am not joking. Do you want to know what kind of hats monks in Budapest, Hungary, wear when they ski at night wearing only their sherpas? I can find it! I have found it!
I once googled photographers all over my locale and the regions below and above, then aggregated the data and came up with my prices. I had no idea if these people had a lick of sense or if they had taken the time to actually calculate fees and come up with reasonable prices so they could actually make money - because let's not forget that. I am here to make money to afford this place called life which includes my kids.
I am not about the whole starving artist thing and I am pretty sure my kids aren’t either.
The thing is, I was petrified to price myself out of the competition. My thought process was, if I undercut other photographers, potential clients would want to book me...right? Not only was I clueless with pricing, I didn't have that large of a portfolio. My first bridal show was at a hotel and my bro-in-law came with me. We went to Kinkos, printed out some photographs that I might have even stolen online (shhh), and took along some classy biz cards - you know the kind that has perforated edges. I stacked those “mostly mine” pics on a table with a checkered tablecloth, jazzed up with little plastic tripods I bought from Staples and handed those perforated cards out like a Boss!
This went on for a few years, just wingin it. Nothing was standardized. I didn't know how much I needed to make or what I was even making for that matter. Then I came across a resource online (of course) called Photography Mints. The site owner publishes all these little precious tidbits of photog information, but most importantly, she had published this article on the psychology of pricing - and bam, it hit me! In reality, what I was really doing was diminishing the value of my work and giving people a reason not to take me seriously. Money is what separates a business from a hobby; in order to do what you love, you have to be compensated for your time, energy, and efforts to keep your business up and running. You have to show clients the value of your work.
4 | Criticism
My man Bob Marley aka “Black Jesus” used to say, “To be great you have to be willing to be mocked, hated and misunderstood.”
Generally, I find people love looking at others lives through their personal lens. It’s not always with a generous or friendly eye either. Sometimes people like to criticize and make fun just to make themselves feel better about their own lives. We can’t let our egos get in the way and be affected by this. We just got to keep plugging away doing what we know is the right thing for us to do and know that somewhere out there, your ideal client will find you. What I didn't understand until fairly recently is that you have to put yourself out there to be found.
You have to be willing to be vulnerable and exposed, and at the same time,
you have to have the wherewithal to take the criticisms and the accolades with humility and grace.
5 | Time management
Shit! I think I could write a book on this topic. I personally think I am the most efficient human I know. Hardly the truth, but it all works for me and that’s all that matters. The thing is, I had to learn the hard way to become this way. I had a GF who once said, “I was the only person she knew that had 48 hours in every day.” True. I don't sleep much, and I rarely shut down. But that doesn't always translate into efficiency. It's more like fervor and tenacity and clusterfuck sometimes. I used to think that if I juggled 26 things at once and bounced around from one to the next that I was “efficient.” Hardly the case. Science shows (no reference for this, but sure that I read it once) that focusing on one task at a time, actually completing it, thoroughly and well, is more beneficial than managing multiple tasks halfway simultaneously.
I got into Buddhism and meditation a few years ago, focusing on mental aptitude and being present and mindful -
this was really my biggest breakthrough in this part of my life.
As an entrepreneur and a small business owner, you wear all the hats, especially early on. As you grow, you can outsource some of the minutiae of course, but you still have yo finger on the pulse of everything. So it's essential that you learn quality and effective time management skills - and in my opinion have a system.
This system is not standard, mine may not work for you and vice versa, you have to tinker with it and be willing to adaptive and reflexive. Mine is basically based on buckets. Social Media bucket; Editing buckets; Client meeting buckets; Photography buckets; Marketing Buckets…etc. You get the gist. And I try and organize everything through compartmentalization so that I can do one thing at a time really really well.
6 | Making lists and leaving the box unchecked
I have a legal pad with lists, a whiteboard with lists, a digital notepad with lists - all of them filled with are actually some pretty good ideas. And these lists go way back. We all have them. You’re lying in bed early AM or clinging to the shower in the morning half hoping the water will crystallize and freeze this moment in time and the eureka bug hits you. This brilliant idea that will change the world. Now multiply that over the years of showers and years of accumulated ideas that never got published and you have a frickin book of unfulfilled aspirations. I was like that for a while back. No more, today, I am actively sifting through my ideas and implementing them into practice. Start small, build up some courage, followed by a plan to put everything in place, and go with it.
7 | Saying No!
Trying to please everyone all the time only leaves one person unpleased and that’s YOU, my friend. Early in my career, I was taking on every gig possible. I was a guinea pig calendar photographer, a Hooters bikini ogler, I mean photographer, headshots, family, corporate gigs, oh and my core, weddings. People be like, “What do you photograph?” and I was like anything with a cellular structure. Cellular Photography: photographing EVERYTHING average.
Then I realized I was doing work for people and projects that were inspiring. My bread and butter are people - and not just anyone. I don't click (haha) with everyone and neither do you. You don't go hang out with people you don't dig right, so why would you want to work with people who will just give you a headache? I am serious and know some people are going to lash out at this concept but so be it.
Why would I want to invest man-hours in someone who doesn't value my product or appreciate the intensity and investment
that I put into my work to create my most perfect piece of art? Why would you?
People pleasing and business are like oil and vinegar; they just don’t mix - unless you add parmesan and some artisan bread. Taking on projects outside the scope of what I offered kept me from taking on projects that I truly wanted to work on, and my creativity and stress levels suffered as a result. I’ve learned that people can (and will) walk all over you if you let them, especially in business. And while I feared the disapproval of others, I’ve also learned that people tend to respect you more when you set boundaries and stick to them.
8 | Competition is GOOD
I wish I had something cool to quote here, but the truth of the matter is I don't view my “competitors” as my competitors when it comes to actual photography. Having others in the same field - and there are a shit ton of photographers these days - just means I have to continually be adaptive and reflexive, adaptive not reactive, and most certainly diligent and innovative. My photography speaks to a certain type of person. I air on the dark, sexier, contrasty side of photography. It has a certain element of fashion and realness to it. Raw, unfiltered photography that appeals to a specific segment of human society. My job is to find clients before my “competitors” do and then interact and develop an authentic rapport with them. Photography is all about rapport, chemistry, and trust. And principles.
I would love to hear any feedback you have on my article as well as any of your biggest life lessons, mistakes you'd like to share. Thank you Mais-Li for your input and time in proofing and editing my post - you're a gem. Please follow her feed on Instagram @peopleofclt