If you’ve always worked for the “boss” and haven’t had the experience of working for yourself, you’re in for quite a shock when you first quit and venture out on your own. Its hard to lose the “job” mentality and start doing everything from an entrepreneur’s mindset.
Yet if you’ve ever jumped over to your own business, you know there are some things you inevitably do that when you look back on, you simply laugh at your actions. “Did I really do that?” Yep, I’ve had a lot of those moments over the years.
And some of those moments stand out more than others. Here is some advice for those of you that have recently crossed over to your own business.
1. Making mistakes with your contracts.
We’ve made this mistake more times then I’d like to admit. Never:
Assume someone will sign a contract because they say they will. Have your policies set up and stick with them – “I’ll fax over a contract and hold the day for you for 3 business days. If we don’t receive it back with payment, the day will open up to others.”
Assume a handshake is good enough. You may have a great relationship in the beginning, but things change when demands start in. A contract is there to cover you and the client. Always use it to maintain the relationship.
Assume they won’t change your contract. We sent over a contract in Word early on in our career, never thinking a client would change our copy. They did. They signed it and returned it. We signed it without reading it again. We only discovered it when the client began making unusual requests after the wedding – things we couldn’t uphold because we simply didn’t have the capability. When they began questioning why we weren’t living up to the contract, we went back and read it. We spent six months living in fear doing whatever the client requested to avoid a lawsuit – and we learned a very valuable lesson.
2. Spending too much money.
You’ve finally made the break from the job, and your time is your own. Since the clients aren’t flowing in, you have a chance to sit back and dream. That’s when you can start getting into trouble.
You dream about the perfect studio. And with a little research, you find a backdrop system you can’t live with out, a room full of props, a computer program that will help you with all of your photography management chores, and a new camera that will make everyone say “WOW”.
Maybe you put a little cash away to help build your new business. Or maybe you’re dipping into the credit cards. But if you fall into the “buy it today” philosophy, you’ll quickly be regretting everything that made you want to start your own business in the first place.
Ask yourself a question every time you are about to spend money – “Do I really need this right now to move me forward?” If the answer is no, put it off for awhile until you can truly afford it.
3. Spending too little money.
People love to spend money on the “things” within the photography business. Yet the “necessities” often fall by the wayside.
A necessity would be anything that will help you grow and profit from your business. Anything else is simply a “shiny object” that gets in your way of building a successful business.
A fourth lens that photographers have been raving about on Facebook would be a shiny object. A new website to help you attract new clients would be a necessity.
The difference is one is required to build your business and help bring in clients, and therefore profits. The other is simply something you justify to have because you want it. Learn to spot the difference from the beginning.
4. Not following your intuition.
When you are new and inexperienced at running your own business, its easy to want to take someone else’s advice. Yet sometimes you have this little voice in your head telling you to go another direction. Don’t ignore that voice. Listen to it. It may help you avoid situations that won’t benefit you or help you grow.
5. Allowing your personality to shine through.
What makes you special? What makes you “you”? Its okay to let these things shine through.
Many business owners put up a face front, hoping to bring in all of the potential business within their area. Yet there will naturally be some people you mesh with and some you don’t. Some you love working with and want in your studio all day long. And others you can’t get out of your studio fast enough.
If people understand you right from the beginning, they will either feel comfortable with you and want to use you, or will turn to another photographer. Let them go. They are the ones that will make your life miserable. You only want the clients that are just like you, and will love and appreciate you from beginning to end.
6. Living with formalities.
Yes, you are in business for yourself now. But you don’t have to turn it into a formal business. A photography business is meant to be fun. Your human side will shine through and help you build relationships along the say. You don’t need formal letters that start out with Dear Ms. Smith. Why not just say Hi Lori! Then ask your questions and make your “pitch”. Other small businesses are playing the game the same way you are. Focus in on being who you are and building relationships around it.
7. Trying to be someone your not.
In most cases, people can tell when you are being yourself. And when you’re not. If you’re new at business, tell them. If you’ve only been photographing for a short while, admit it.
Trying to fool your clients into thinking you are something you’re not will only backfire. Everyone has to start at the beginning and people understand that. Price your products according to your skills and talents. Ask for opinions to help you grow.
There has never been an artist anywhere in time that has gone from zero to one million overnight. I always say we were a “seven year overnight success”. It took seven years of playing with a camera, practicing, and working for others to learn everything we needed to build our first six figure business.
And that’s okay.
8. Selling to the wrong people.
When you first jump out of a job and into your own business, you start worrying a bit more about paying the bills. You know a regular paycheck won’t be coming in each Friday, so you look at every opportunity as a way of putting cash into your account.
When the wrong person comes your way, it ends up being increasingly difficult to say no. If you haven’t booked a client, can you really afford to turn one who is ready to pay away? Yet if they are the wrong customer, you’ll end up with more headache then success.
Just because someone is interested in doing business with you doesn’t mean you should accept. The wrong person:
- Will cause you to stretch into trying to photograph things you have no desire to photograph
- Will cause you to research and spend time perfecting your technique for one client without the desire to move into that area
- Will take away the time you could spend perfecting what you love to do
- Will take away the time you need to look for the right clients
In an offer doesn’t excite you right away, decline it or ignore it. Its your business; you don’t have to take everything that comes your way.
9. Focusing in on the value you provide.
What is the purpose of your business? If you said “to make money”, think again.
The real purpose of your business is to create value. The more value you create, the more valuable your business becomes.
Your value should be centered around what makes your business special. It may be sharing content and ideas. It may be a new approach to photography. It may be the way you present your products. It may be the experience you create from beginning to end. It all adds up in the clients’ minds.
10. Looking and reaching towards the future.
When you first start out, you have a million ideas in your head. But are any of them concrete in regards to the future? What will you be doing a year from now? How will you know if you are on target? What will you do if you don’t reach your goals? How will you change? Having dreams is great. Yet you still need to monitor how you will reach them and what you will do if you don’t.