I started my first business when I was 19 years old, and at the time, my view of success was a little off. Like, I considered it a huge win when a client wanted to book me as their wedding photographer for $400 – not realizing I’d actually be paying out of pocket to shoot the wedding after equipment rentals and hiring a second shooter. Oops!
But that’s part of the joy of the first couple years of business, isn’t it? You’re blissfully ignorant. You’re both less talented and more confident than you’ll ever be again. You celebrate things that most seasoned pros would consider failures, and yet you’re still so dang excited about moving forward and growing your business anyway. That level of blind optimism is a beautiful thing!
That being said, if there had been a way to cut through some of the trial and error I went through, I would’ve been all about it.
And that’s the point of this post: to talk to you like a big sister over coffee and explain what things you can invest in now that will help you build momentum the fastest in your business.
So what would I invest in now if starting my business over from scratch?
By far the most important piece of the puzzle.
Read every library book about your craft and about business that you can get your hands on. Books are the cheapest, densest sources of information I know of.
Find a mentor who knows their stuff and work with them, either personally or remotely via paid courses, to level up in one area of your business at a time. As long as it’s someone you 100% trust is credible and will deliver, and as long as the end result of the course is something you’re already trying to master, consider the investment a bargain (think about all the people who take out loans for degrees that don’t even guarantee a good job! Yikes!).
Educate yourself on your craft and on the ins and outs of business. And don’t just invest your money – invest your time, too! Join or create in-person meetups with other creatives where you learn from each other’s different businesses and deliberately set out to help one another grow.
I wasted way too much time trying to design my own website. Wayyyy too much time. And I guess it worked out, because now that’s what I do for a living – but it seriously hurt my photography business.
How? Because even though I was a good designer, I couldn’t design for myself without overthinking things and trying to incorporate every piece of my soul (and Pinterest boards) into my visual identity. And even though I was a good designer, I wasn’t that good.
What I needed at the beginning was a professionally designed website template. Something that looked so good straight out of the box that even I would be forced to admit I couldn’t improve it with my DIY skills. Something that gave me the shot of confidence to take my business seriously, charge what I was worth, and to live up to the image my beautiful website had already established for me.
I honestly do not believe most businesses need a $10K custom site, but I do believe that a well designed template is something every business, especially newer ones, can benefit from.
So go buy a pretty website design and start looking the part of the higher-end, legit brand you aspire to be.
[Um, hi, I sell pretty websites! Take a look and let me know if I can answer any questions. I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction, even if it’s not with me.]
So there you have it: If I were starting my photography business over today, I would spend money on branding and education. Here are some other things that would’ve been a great help to me in my first year of business:
I would invest in ads from the beginning, or at the very least a company or freelancer to help run ads for me. I started my business in a new city with no personal connections and zero knowledge of even the most basic organic marketing strategies. Ads are not evil! They are a smart way to find the people who need and want what you have to offer.
Of all kinds. Tax help. Post-processing help, Album design help. A freelancer to help design my marketing materials. Employees. Any time I had the ability to pay someone else to do something they were better at, I’d do it – not because it’s impossible to stumble through these tasks yourself (it’s dangerously possible), but because taking pride in doing everything ourselves is a bad habit we have as solopreneurs. We need to focus on ROI and growth, not saving a few dollars here or there. And when a type of outsourcing seems hard but can easily double our profits for the year – like hiring associate photographers, for instance – we need to get over our fear and learn how the heck to do it.
I always advise new photographers to use presets at the beginning! You can evolve your own style later, but when starting out it’s important to have a consistent look to your work. And the number of amazing, relatively cheap presets out there designed by actual top-of-their-field photographers is mind boggling. Again, take advantage of anyone who does anything better than you!
Alright, that’s really it.
Did I miss anything? What’s been the most valuable investment for your business so far, whether it’s a big conceptual thing like education or a specific product? I’d love to hear!