Personal growth is just that~ PERSONAL. No one can replicate the growth of another, and perhaps its that one place in life where we truly are unique. My personal journey to becoming a portrait photographer you can read here. I wrote it when I launched my website about two years ago around the time that I started my business in Ithaca, NY.
My personal journey to becoming a SUCCESSFUL portrait photographer is what you’re about to read here and now. There is a distinguishable difference between being a portrait photographer and being a successful portrait photographer. What success means to each individual is vastly different. For the sake of this post and my journey, I’m going to define success as the ability to fully support my family of three children as a single parent by doing work that I love while maintaining a natural state inner well being. For me, the journey and personal growth came from learning some valuable life lessons around self worth and work/home balance which I’m about to share with you all. This is by no means the ONLY place I’ve found personal growth since becoming a business owner, nor is the only way I define success. Its just what I thought I’d share first and foremost.
MY BIGGEST LESSON? BE THE MASTER OF YOUR OWN WORLD!!!
My first year in business as I was developing my business plan and deciding what I wanted to launch into the community I did the typical things business experts tell you to do. Research your local competition, create brand identity, carve out a niche for yourself and market like crazy.
So I did that~ I looked at what every local photographer was offering, what they were charging, placed myself somewhere in the upper middle portion of that based on my skills and experience and launched. and…I ROCKED IT! I mean seriously. I was getting gig after gig, landing large corporate jobs I’d only dreamed of, feeling on top of the world. I had done over 100 amazing jobs in my first year as a business owner and the word was spreading about my talent.
Then, I looked at my bank account at the end of the year and realized this. I had not only not achieved as much of a profit as I had imagined I did, I also realized that the profit that I had made was not enough to even cover my business expenses to provide my clients the kind of experience I wanted to give them. After an entire year of working, I had actually LOST money. To boot~ I had achieved the ultimate in photographer burn out. I was staying up editing 5 days out of the week until midnight or later, and then waking up to do another job. I was maxed out, my health began declining and I was not only broke. I was miserable and my family was beginning to resent my job. YIKES!
I began to do some research on how to be a successful portrait photographer and I found an article on “shoot and burn” photographers. As I read it, I realized I was reading an article that was mirroring my own life. Not charging enough, giving away all of the digital files, not making enough money to support my family, being chronically sick, burnt out and emotionally and physically exhausted. While I thought I was creating a dream job life for myself and my family, I was actually living in a self created nightmare.
Back in 2003, when I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design with my BFA degree in Photography and Digital Imaging, the industry was NOT as it is now. The only photographers who marketed “professional photography” to the community were skilled professionals who had trained and acquired certifications through organizations like the ASMP, PPA or had accredited degrees. For many of us, we had to work as unpaid apprentices for several years before we were in a position to launch our own business. Now, in 2019 just about anyone with a decent camera can pop up shop and call themselves a professional photographer and charge money. (I’ve even seen people do a shoot using an I PHONE! gulp….) To those of us who worked out booties off perfecting our skills and experience with high grade expensive and professional grade equipment over decades this is incredibly disheartening. What is even more disheartening is that these people will offer their services to the community at such a LOW rate that it can be confusing to the average consumer why others would charge more.
What I have found to be incredibly important is to educate my clients on the difference between quality portraiture by a professional vs someone who is doing this as a side hobby for fun. Because, there is a HUGE difference. but I’m digressing here…. See what happens when I think about all of that? My head will get spun on comparison, and frustration. This ultimately will lead me down an endless path of negativity, because the truth is I have no control over what other people do with their time/talent/energy, but there is someone whose time/talent/energy I DO have control over, and that is mine. What this all boils down to in terms of personal growth for me has been this.
STAY FOCUSED ON MY OWN WORTH/VALUE and ignore what every other photographer is doing. Comparison is the thief of joy after all! If I put any thought to what so and so down the road is doing with their $100 mini marathon, and what their latest shoot was about, I miss out on keeping my energy in alignment with what I am offering to the community. I’ve personally unfollowed near about every local photographer on social media because I don’t want it to affect or cloud my own creative juices. This is a tricky thing to do, because so much of what you learn in marketing is to be aware of what your competitors are doing. I had to say no more of that. I got laser focused on my own financial goals and the life I wanted to create for myself and my family.
When I raised my prices last year, (so I could earn a livable wage to support a family of three) it was scary. I mean, truly scary. I had people criticizing me with comments like: “No one will pay that amount of money for pictures.”, “You’re ripping people off”., “How dare you” or the worst one. “You’re only catering to privileged people.”
As a daughter of a single mother who grew up on welfare, those money guilt stories hit me at my core and made me question myself. Then I had to get real with myself, meditate about my own money stories and question why I somehow didn’t feel like I deserved to earn a livable wage doing what I love and had invested my college years learning to do. The truth was, none of those people had ever run a profitable business, and they certainly were’t aware of the industry standard pricing for professional photographers. I had to tune out these people’s voices, they weren’t representative of the truth I was creating for myself. My self reflective money story inquiries got pretty deep, I’ll spare you all the details~ but the end result of all of that inquiry brought me to NOW. SUCCESS as a portrait photographer.
I read a quote recently which reads, “My prices are based on my talent, not your budget.” This resounded with me greatly. The truth I came to realize is that I’m not here to service everyone in my community. I don’t need to offer my services for free just for “exposure” but I CAN donate my time/energy/talent to support organizations that my heart feels called to support as a local business owner. Now that I’m running a profitable business, I can do that!
So why am I sharing all of this so publicly and candidly? Because I believe in 100% honesty and transparency in my business and in my life in general. Maybe you’re a photographer and you need to start believing in your value? Hopefully you’ll find some inspiration in my journey? Maybe you’re a person who has questioned my rates? If you’re one of those people, I’ll spare you all the calculations, but I’ll say this… after taxes, and business expenses, I now am finally earning a livable wage which is capable of supporting a family of three in my county of residence doing the work I love.
The nuts and bolts of it all is that I am not burnt out beyond belief to the point of exhaustion, or loss of sanity. My family no longer resents my work, and I am HAPPY; as are my clients who value my offerings! WIN/WIN!!! This to me is what personal growth looks like and its just one of my stories about being a successful portrait photographer. I have so many more stories to share on this topic in the future!
So much of my personal journey and growth has centered around discovering, honoring and owning my self worth and value. As well, so much of the work I do with my clients follows this same theme! Whether its by working with a tween who is feeling insecure about themselves as they transition through those awkward years of life or a business owner who is rebranding their business and wanting to really show the world how dang amazing they are with a refreshed online presence; the common thread of the work I do stems from self worth, self confidence, integrity and choosing the path of self love.
I’d love to hear more about what your personal growth story looks like, and what lessons you’ve learned along the way. Each of us grows and learns their life lessons in such different ways, I believe that we can all grow from hearing one another stories as well.