This article is more about the psychology of starting out, rather than business fundamentals like getting insurance and a bank account. Of course those things are very important! Check out some of Hair of the Dog’s great resources on those topics if you’re still at that stage, below are some of my best tips:
1) My shingle is out, business flag is proudly unfurled (probably all figuratively of course)…and here I am sitting at home. Whether you are still working a day job or not, having your own photography business can be isolating. Get yourself “out there” as much as possible. Some ideas: volunteer for animal-related causes, visit local pet shops to develop connections and set up portfolio building sessions. Make yourself busy!
The purpose of this is two-fold. For one it will give you energy and momentum. I am a classic introvert, but even for me this is very important. Chances are if you are just starting out customers aren’t beating down your door. Don’t let this spiral into negativity or doubt about your talent. Use it as an opportunity to generate buzz. You have to be the buzz and breathe life into this venture. The second benefit is the value you get by creating these connections. You will start to feel “legit”. It’s not just because you get used to introducing yourself as a pet photographer so you start to believe it. It’s other people believing in you and being excited about your work that really cements it.
2) Make plans. I usually start out all of my days with a to-do list. You are much more likely to get something done if you write it out. It’s so simple, yet so true. I am a bit of a productivity nerd (because I am an epic procrastinator at heart) and it’s not good enough to just make a broad list. Here’s some easy tips I recommend: 1) list in order of difficulty and put the easy stuff first. It feels satisfying when you can cross it off and it’s a little victory that can lead the charge into the harder stuff. 2) Do not just write something like “Get First 10 Clients” or “Make Website”. You will not get this done in a day and if you can’t cross it off you aren’t going to do it, or even start on it. Instead list the hard thing and right under it, list each small step it will take to get it done. Whatever actions you don’t get done you carry over to your list for tomorrow. Now we’re cooking!
For the bigger picture of your business you must write out your plans. This is not a business plan though. I typically measure in 6 month, 1 year, and 5 year increments. If you don’t have goals, how will you know when you’ve achieved them? It’s not good enough to think about them, commit them to paper. To work toward hitting them they must be clear and measurable. If you want to have a coherent strong branding presence within one year, define what that means exactly. Putting these big plans into action is what your daily to-do list will help you with. Starting a business from scratch creates an endless sea of things that need doing, you have to focus your efforts and make sure you stay on track. It’s also very easy to feel like you’ve made no progress at all when there’s so much you have to do. You will have the written proof to remind yourself at how far you’ve come!
3) One of the most helpful things for me has been being part of a group of other pet photographers at a similar level. The original charter idea for the group was that we would work toward achieving our goals together. We assign ourselves homework, come up with individual goals, and email each other when we need help with something. We also meet bi-weekly via Google Hangout to discuss our progress. It’s great because it gives us incentive to actually get our tasks done and it’s a good outlet to chat with colleagues. We all live in different cities and met through Jamie Pflughoeft’s Seattle Cowbelly workshop. Jamie actually gave us the idea to “hangout” online because she was part of a similar group focused on revenue generating activities (RGA) when she started out. You can totally take this idea and run with it. Consider creating a group via the Beautiful Beasties Network. You could actually do this in your city with something like Jamie’s original group. She was part of a local business group (not photography specific) that carried out 3-5 RGA’s a week.
Being part of a group really does help to motivate you. I just read this article recently that validates the psychology at work. When people train with a stronger partner they work harder. If you are ready to challenge yourself consider starting a group, or find a like minded business buddy.
4) Fail…just get back up. This is definitely the most important thing that you have to remember. You have to do things that scare you and take risks. What if the perfect marketing partner you approach says no? What if you get completely swamped by demand at the event you agreed to shoot at? What if no one comes to your booth? Learn from your failures and move on.
Very few people start a business and are immediately a huge success. If you want your business to grow inevitably some of the things you try out are going to fail. The important thing is that you are taking those risks because some of them are what propels you to the next level!
About the Author: Gabby is the owner of Blinker Pet Photography based in Portland Oregon. Blinker was started in 2010 as the culmination of a love of dogs, photography and an obsession with starting a business. Tilly is the Blinker mascot and frequent on-camera talent.