In the final part of my four-part series, I want to focus on the one person who can make or break your photography business: you.
It's hard to believe that it’s already July. 2022 is flying by, and now is a great time to reflect on the last six months to see how our businesses have grown, as well as consider our 2022 goals to see where we may need to adjust our strategy. For tips 16-20, I decided to focus on personal growth and development because the hard truth is that success in business and in life begins with how we view ourselves and what we believe we can accomplish. Although some of these final tips may seem cliche or existential, everything here is based on my personal experience. Special thanks to Richard Waine for all of his help in creating this series of articles.
16. You Must Believe You Can Do It
Back around 2017, I was having a career crisis of sorts. Although I owned a successful business, had a part-time job as a college professor, just completed a doctorate degree, owned a home, and had a beautiful family (in other words, I was living the "dream"), I felt empty inside, like my career was stuck, and that my decision to study music was a huge mistake. There were other factors as well which I needn't get into here, but as a young man entering college, I chose music over photography, although both were more or less equal passions in my life. And now, I found myself, over a decade later, feeling like I missed the boat and regretting my life choices.
It was around this time that I started learning about portrait photography. I remember telling my wife that I wish I would have pursued photography as a career instead of music, and I felt like it was too late to change anything. I had this sinking feeling of doubt and regret, mixed with bouts of depression, and didn’t believe I had the talent and ability to become a great photographer. It felt like a dead end and like it was too late to start over.
There were many things that happened between 2017 and opening my photography business in 2020, but the substantial change began with my mindset. It wasn't until I began to believe in myself as a photographer and businessperson that I began to succeed. I realized at some point that I was able to accomplish anything, as long as I was willing to put the time and work in to learning the necessary skills.
If you don’t believe you can be a successful photographer (or a successful whatever), you’re right. You will do everything in your power to create the reality that you already believe in your mind, so my advice to you is to listen to that voice in your head very, very carefully and make sure it’s not sabotaging you. All of us struggle with negative thoughts and self-doubt, but successful people learn to recognize negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. More than that, they plan short and long-term goals and vigorously pursue them, regardless of periodic negative thoughts.
In 2020, I was days away from selling all of my photography gear and giving up. I’m so glad that I didn’t, and although I have a lot to accomplish with my business and career, I am now doing things I didn’t think were possible just a few years ago. And, if I can do it, so can you!
17. Get a Mentor
A key to success in any industry is finding a mentor that you click with and whose work inspires you. In my personal journey, mentorship has been an integral part of my growth. When I decided to finally go “all in” and make photography a career, I took advantage of every opportunity to study with my mentors as I could. I have attended multiple photography workshops, and spent countless hours being critiqued and watching others be critiqued too. I photographed as many friends and family members as I could to hone my skills and grow as fast as possible. If you are feeling stuck as a photographer, with a lack of focus and direction, my advice is to find a mentor, and make sure they are very successful as an artist and businessperson.
18. Learn to Accept Criticism
Finding a great mentor is the easy part. Listening and implementing what they say is more difficult, especially for those of us with large egos. And let’s be honest, photographers can be some of the most egotistical and self-important people on the planet, in my experience even worse than musicians, and that’s saying a lot!
In the years I've been studying with my mentors, as well as in mentoring others, I’ve noticed three basic kinds of people. There are those who listen and accept constructive criticism, making it their job to improve their work at the very next shoot. These are the people who grow at an exponential rate as photographers and sometimes within just a few months they are cranking out incredible work, better than many who have been photographers for decades.
Then there are those who hear criticism (note, they hear, but don't listen) and immediately explain all the reasons (excuses) why the mentor is wrong. I’ve seen it over and over in mentoring sessions. These are the people who interrupt, and say “I know, I know, I did X because Y,” or, “My client had this or that wrong with them so I couldn’t get the photo right," or, "I don't see what you are saying and disagree." They are always full of excuses and don’t listen to or apply the wisdom being given to them. Because of this, they never grow.
Finally, there are those who can’t accept any criticism at all. These people are immediately offended at the slightest criticism and attack those who are trying to help them, many times with personal insults or by insulting the work of the mentor. In short, they are unteachable, because they know everything already. Ironically, the most successful people I've met and worked with in photography and music are always the most humble, always noting how much they have to learn.
If you want to grow in business, and in life, learn to accept criticism and to be your own harshest constructive critic. When accepting criticism from others, just make sure that they have your best interest at heart and want to see you succeed. At the same time, ignore all the other trolls and critics who just want to tear you down. They can go fly a kite, as my grandma used to say.
19. Take a Day Off
For those of us who are entrepreneurs and naturally self-motivated, it’s incredibly hard to hit the off switch. I’m constantly planning content, reading business books, tweaking my website copy, and in between I’m checking multiple apps to see who has commented and subscribed to my various platforms. I realized that I was burning myself out, and something needed to change.
Then, it hit me. Scheduling one solid day off per week is not being lazy, and it has helped to increase my productivity. This is because our bodies and minds need rest in order to function at their highest level possible. If you never hit the off switch, you will crash hard sooner or later.
On my days off, I make it point to leave my phone and computer behind, and to be present with my family. On my last day off, we went to an art museum, and I enjoyed looking at paintings and sculptures for extended periods of time, observing how they made me feel. I couldn’t believe how fulfilled, calm, and joyful I felt after leaving the museum with my family. I felt renewed. I also suggest meditating, reading literature, or just going for a long walk in nature, without any motive, and without trying to force your mind to think about your next business move. Ironically, I also find that going out for a day with my camera to be extremely relaxing and renewing. When I do this, I have no agenda or goal, except to enjoy the art of photography either in nature or strolling through a busy city street. It’s incredibly therapeutic.
20. Whatever You Do, Don’t Quit!
My final piece of advice in 2022 is simple: don’t quit. Whatever else you do, don’t give up. I have had and continue to have many struggles, failures, haters, and trolls in my life, both online and in person. This is part of the success process, and the people who we admire as the most always have experienced failure, usually right before their greatest triumph. The next six months of 2022 are yours to make what you will of them, and as I said at the beginning of this article, the only one who can stop you is you.