I am home! Finally! Over the past couple weeks, I have been on the road traveling the southeast part of the country where I got to meet some amazing new friends, clients, and other photography enthusiasts. I saw new cities and states for the first time, experienced different cultures, learned new things, and gained different perspectives. This entire trip was designed around one event, ImagingUSA, the Professional Photographer's of America conference in in San Antonio, Texas. I had been a member of PPA for a while but never had the time in my schedule to make ImagingUSA happen until now; and now that I have been, I cannot wait for the chance to do something like it again!
Now that I have had some time to reflect on the whole experience, there are four major takeaways that I would like to share to fellow photographers, to those struggling to make it their career, to those just start out, and even those established full-timers...
1. There is room for everyone willing to do the work! I feel that there are many photographers that feel threatened by newcomers to the market. Heck, I went through that phase too but there is room for all those serious about photography as a career. In the book Fast Track Photographer by Dane Sanders, we learn that 60% of photographers give up on their business within the first year and only 15% make it to year three. Being a professional photographer earning a living takes much more that a camera and a dream. It is important to remember that although the market feels over saturated with people that are undercutting the value of photography with their "$50 session fee with all photos included" prices, those people aren't really taking away clients from you. The type of client they are attracting don't value the investment of good photography; they are discount shoppers and the dollar amount is the only thing they see. If you are going to be successful you want clients that the dollar amount is the last thing they think about.
2. You are your brand. Our brand is so much more than what our website and packaging looks like. We are now the most important part of our brand. Who you are and how you conduct yourself is part of your brand. Photography today is so much more personal than it was in the past. Our clients aren't just coming into a studio for thirty minutes, getting their prints and walking out; we are trusted with capturing special milestones and creating new memories. We become a friend and sometimes even part of the family. Most potential clients now factor in who you are just as your photographic style and price.
3. Community over competition. Getting started in photography (especially horse show photography), there was very little support from other professionals, partly because there just isn't many of us out there that are making a living at it and/or they don't want to share their secrets in fear of losing business. I feel that I am lucky for where I am today in my business because there are so many that are struggling to do what they love for a living. My business was built on a lot of blood, sweat, and tears because I didn't think there were mentors or a community for me but now I know I was so, so wrong! There is a large and growing community out there for artists seeking guidance and comradery from other professionals, you just have to put yourself out there! There are many communities of photographers out there, from professional associations to local camera clubs, to online groups. Communities are not only great for networking with other photographers but a way you can get connected with potential clients and jobs! From just my participation in a few online groups, I have had several other photographers refer jobs for me because they know who I am and what I do. Communities like this can be a great place to seek advice and find a mentor.
4. Stop comparing! Theodore Roosevelt said "comparison is the thief of joy". This is one of the hardest things to do because it is in our nature to compare but constantly comparing ourselves and our businesses to the next persons doesn't really get us anywhere. I am not saying that you should never compare yourself because sharing and learning what others are doing to be successful can be beneficial, I am saying stop the type of comparing that leaves you feeling like a failure or superior. It is important to remember that our art and business are an extension of who we are. Every photographer is different. We all have different styles, target markets, clients, etc. There is no one size fits all plan to being a successful photographer or business owner; what works for me, may not work for you and that is okay! When you find yourself starting to compare your work to someone else's, ask yourself two things: "Why am I comparing?" and "Is this constructive?". Comparison should only be used to genuinely learn something and take away valuable information and constructive to you and your work.
There really was so much to learn during ImagingUSA no matter what level of professional you were. My takeaways might be completely different than the next persons but this experience really drilled in the importance of continued education. We are never done learning. There will always be new technology and business management strategies to handle the ever changing markets we live in. I strongly suggest if you aren't a member of a community of professionals, seek one out! The support and learning opportunities will outweigh any objections you may have.
I sure as heck don't have all the answers but am always available to talk to too! You can email me and chat anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org