Today marks my official first year in business. Who would have thought you can run a business (much less START a business) that revolves around people in the middle of a pandemic?? I’ve shot 70 sessions, taken THOUSANDS of photos, spent hundreds of hours editing, and have loved it more than any job I’ve ever had.
That’s not saying it has been easy. I’ve done a lot of things wrong, but I’m also going to give myself credit and say I’ve done several things right. I worked my booty off, stayed up way too late many nights and woke up when it was still dark out to work on growing my business. But I’ve learned a lot along the way.
Below are some of my biggest takeaways from my first year running Nikki Caviness Photography.
Being a photographer is 20% doing photography related tasks, and 80% using my business degree.
As much as I hated my prior career in the corporate world, it has definitely set me up for success in launching my photography business. You may think being a photographer means you take pictures, and then you send them to the client. That’s part of it….maybe 5%. The rest of the time I’m putting together a marketing plan, creating content for my social media and blog, doing bookkeeping, corresponding with clients and potential clients, and more. As a business owner, you wear ALL the hats! So, Dad, don’t worry – I’m definitely using that Texas A&M Marketing degree!
It is okay to say no.
Saying no is HARD for me. I have a real fear of disappointing anyone, so saying no is a big struggle. But when you run your own business, you have to say no. I have learned I need to run everything through 2 filters: the business filter that asks, “Would saying yes be beneficial for my business?” and the parent/wife filter that asks, “Would saying yes be beneficial for my family?” At the end of the day, saying no isn’t personal. Its putting the needs of your business and yourself first. I’ve said no to projects that weren’t interesting to me. I’ve said no to inquiries so I didn’t burn myself out. I’ve said no to lowering my prices. I’ve said no to a lot of things I didn’t think I’d say no to. However, I once heard in a podcast that saying yes to something you don’t want to do means saying no to something you want to do. You are one person, and there are only so many hours in the day. It is okay to say no.
Don’t be scared to invest money into your business. Like… a lot of money.
I started my business in the middle of a pandemic. I wasn’t shooting clients. But I needed to have money to start my business. It was like, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? In this case, what came first was me selling items around our house on the local buy/sell/trade page so I didn’t dip into our personal accounts to fund my new camera, pay for education, set up my business accounts, purchase software, etc. Once I started booking clients, I set that money aside for my 3 biggest expenses to date: a new MacBook Pro, an SEO specialist for my website, and a 3 day retreat and 6 month mastermind with a nationally known photographer that I knew would be invaluable. After investing my profits into those things, I wrote myself my first paycheck in March 2021. Now…waiting that long to actually pay myself probably isn’t the best advice. But I’ve already seen the payoff of those scary, big, expensive investments I made in the past year so I know they were the right move.
Community is beyond important.
Being a photographer can be lonely. Like I mentioned before, maybe 5% of my time is actually spent with clients. The rest of the time I’m in my office, working by myself. I have been lucky enough to be welcomed into and accepted by a supportive group of female photographers in DFW that is our circle of trust. We’ve all been in business for 1-5ish years, can bounce ideas off of each other, troubleshoot, refer clients we aren’t able to take to each other, and talk shop. In an industry where you mostly work alone, this community has been such a blessing.
Structure is necessary.
I have never worked from home, much less worked for myself before. So putting together a schedule and having structure in place was important so I wasn’t mindlessly scrolling through social media instead of getting things done for my business. Each day I have a different goal – content creation, editing, bookkeeping, etc. and a to-do list to go along with that goal. When my kids are at school, I work from 9-noon straight. Noon until 1pm is lunch and then I work from 1 until I have to pick up the kids at 2. If I have errands to run, I will skip working in the afternoon and do them then. I also try to schedule all my sessions during the week if possible. I’m wife and a mom and spending time with my family is important, so I try to avoid working on the weekends if possible. I come from an industry where it was expected that you immediately respond to emails 24/7, so breaking that habit has been hard but is my goal for this next year. I have business hours just like any other business, and sticking to those hours has helped me separate work life from home life.
Find what works for YOU.
Maybe the most important thing I’ve learned this year is that no one can do you better than you can. There are so many ways to do things and none are necessarily the right way – some people shoot with Canon and some people shoot with Nikon. Some swear by a 35mm lens while others only shoot with a 50mm. Some people think that a CRM is the best while others just use Excel. Finding the tools and the ways to do things that work best for YOU is what is important. And what others insist on using may not be the best for you and your business. Ask the same questions to multiple people. Get and compare different responses. Try things out and stick with what works for you.
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