Wow… where do I start? In three years my business has changed in huge ways and this change has been THE key to its growth – and therefore, its survival to date.
I want to say before I tell you my story: it’s a big deal for me to bare my soul like this! Deep breath…
YEAR 1: GET READY, HERE I COME!
I felt like a ‘Year 1’ alright as I took my first baby steps to starting my photography business. I’d finished my photography studies and decided to start slowly while finishing the writing component of my degree and still working as a teacher.
I was determined to do things my way but I was also aware that this meant a huge learning curve and a big risk, not having worked for years and years in the industry first. Most of my studies had involved photography as an art form and I wanted to bring that creativity to my work to create a business with a fresh approach. I also felt there was a general lack of good customer care out there and certainly in the photography industry, and I had some clear values around this that I wanted to put at the centre of my business.
I knew from the start that it would have to be ‘my way or the highway’ for me and photography, and so, New Work Photography was born.
That first year was characterised by the following activities:
- Trying to take myself seriously while working out of a corner of the lounge room in our tiny apartment on a dinosaur of a computer, most of the time alone, with the occasional phone call only taken when the neighbours weren’t shouting, playing drum and base music or drilling something.
- A sh*#tload of research and reading and attending workshops on how to set up and run a business. From Day One I wanted to do this thing properly. My thinking was, ‘I may be microscopic, but I’m going to act BIG.’ This was largely influenced by reading Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited, loaned to me by my former boss.
- Doing a surprisingly few amount of jobs for friends (why do they say your first clients are your friends? Maybe I projected an image of ‘I don’t need your help’… although I really did).
- Doing a not surprising amount of jobs for free or very little, to gain experience and bulk up my portfolio. This was invaluable but also hard to break away from later (be warned!).
- Doing all sorts of photography from kids to products to fashion to events – I drew the line at weddings! – and discovering what I did and didn’t like doing
- A big start-up loan (thanks Dad!)
- General excitement and feeling like I can do anything
YEAR 2: I GET REAL
The following year contained some very big rollercoasters. I started on a high, having gained some attention doing fashion-inspired portrait photography and Style Shoots (glamour portraits at events). I was enjoying the buzz of going places with my camera and studio lights and being recognised by the local crowd. I loved dressing up and putting on a show at fabulous fashion or social events, doing my photography thing.
From here I decided to create some make-over and photo-shoot workshops for women: intimate morning teas where women could gather, learn some beauty tips from guest speakers, have their make-up professionally done and have a glamour photo. I loved the buzz of putting these events together but found the promotion of them very hard. I was still learning how to use social media and didn’t really understand just how much work is involved in promoting an event. These events were great but very small, and I soon decided they were taking away from what I love best – taking photographs.
Around the same time I decided to celebrate my business’ first birthday with a HUGE party – a ticketed event showcasing fashion and art photographs, a fashion show by an emerging designer, and a demonstration of the Style Shoots that had already created a buzz. I look back on this time with awe and sadness… I worked by butt off and although the event looked like a success, I was left with a big debt and a blow to my self confidence… I even lost a friend in the process as this project consumed me entirely for months on end. I learned at that time what it was to walk with your tail between your legs, and I learned how easily you can be swayed by shiny things and forget all about what is important to you.
It was my family who picked me up and dusted me off and now I felt like I owed them to get on with actually running a business. I dropped a lot of the services I had been offering, including the fashion-inspired portraits – great idea but someone else can do it! I went back to basics and concentrated on how to sell some standard photography services, while retaining the Style Shoot event photography option.
In this year I also did an enormous amount of networking of all sorts (the stories there could fill a book), and a lot of at-event promotions, demonstrations and yes… more freebies. By the end of the second year I had gained a lifetime’s worth of learning and I had definitely gotten real.
YEAR 3: I GET CLEAR
By the end of the second year I had left my failures behind and moved to a new apartment with my very own office. After a rocky start to the new year where I finally felt touched by the global economic crisis (well, Perth is a little behind) I put my head down and really focused for the first time in my business career! Major changes happened:
- I zoned in on my ideal client and who my target market is (local business people, fashion designers and suppliers, event managers and marketing people) and decided to focus exclusively on commercial, fashion and corporate event photography. The Style Shoots stayed… but now I focus on providing these for corporate events.
- I thought long and hard about my product and service packages, pricing and point of difference
- I changed my branding to be more polished and business-oriented, while still retaining the creative, cool feel that I loved from the start
- I streamlined my marketing and networking efforts, choosing wisely where to spend my money and time (only attending a select few networking events, doing a couple of sponsorships with key event companies only, no more throwing expensive flyers in gift bags at random events).
- I learned to say NO. No more free photography (hey, it’s not just a matter of picking up a camera!!!), not even ‘in exchange’ for vague promotional opportunities. Now if I do something for free it’s because I’ve volunteered. Also NO to clients who do not represent the type of people I want to work with. This has been tough – but you soon learn that not trusting your instincts on this spells trouble every time.
- I grew up. I got a lot older and wiser, but with a renewed, more real sense of confidence in myself and my business.
Becoming extremely focused in my business resulted in huge growth in a few short months. It also meant that I was gaining confidence and skills in my work, doing what I really love. I’m now very much concentrating on commercial and fashion photography.
AND NOW FOR YEAR FOUR
Well that’s just begun, but so far it’s involved getting serious about my art photography as well – something that’s just for me but just as important.
What does Year Four hold for New Work?
To Be Continued…