I don’t want to be a self-help style guru here at all (get the sick bucket, please), but I think I’ve just learnt a massive business lesson that’s worth sharing. My other business is a photography business, and through that I discovered a love of writing, and other photographers started asking me to write for them, and here we are.
I was doing everything wrong
Before BearFaced came into being, I was a hot mess of other people’s business ideas, subscriptions to services that really weren’t right for my way of working, and a long list of “must-read” self help business mindset books (which I secretly thought were bullshit, but because successful people were recommending them, I thought I’d better read them). My photography was suffering under the immense weight of this self-imposed pressure to conform, too.
Work in Progress = Keep Working, Keep Progressing
My style has changed massively over the course of the two years I’ve been a full time photographer. I started out wanting to photograph babies, then kids, then weddings. I do all of them, but earlier in the year I shifted my focus a lot because something just wasn’t sitting right with me. If I’m completely honest, back in June I admitted to my husband that I never want to shoot another family ever again. If you take a look at my photography website, you’ll see that my focus is actually split pretty evenly between weddings and families.
So how can I say what I say, and do what I do? Shouldn’t I have the courage of my convictions to sack off families forever and only ever shoot weddings?
A few paragraphs ago I mentioned I was a hot mess of other people’s ideas. If I’m brutally honest with myself, I know that a lot of the work I’ve produced has been to other people’s tastes. Not mine. Sometimes not even my clients’. I fell into a trap of thinking that I had to produce work like this well-known photographer, or that wildly-successful photographer. It was only in the past month that I’ve had this feeling, like something unknown has been gnawing away at me, that something has been wrong. Something that has stopped me picking up my camera for the sheer joy of it. It’s like I’ve had writer’s block, only with a camera.
I realised how to get it right
It’s not as negative as it sounds to admit you’ve been doing stuff wrong. Once you’ve made that admission, you can start to do things right! That’s gold. When we realise we’re on the wrong path we can feel our way to the right path, it just takes a little effort to figure out how illuminate it so we can actually see where we’re going.
A week ago I did a photoshoot for a local family. We went to the park. We played. We did all the usual stuff. The family I shot for had no idea what happened when I opened up their gallery to edit it that evening – that what I saw blew my mind. I had finally produced work that I was immensely proud of. It was raw, and emotional, and intimate. There were fun moments but most of all, it was just an honest representation of the relationship of two sisters. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot.
What’s more is that I know how to talk about the photos I love to take. I don’t have to strap a mask on before I sit at my laptop to write copy that helps me sell this style of photography. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not, and risk being a poor imitation. I can be authentic and natural by embracing what it is that I’m better at than constantly trying to fix myself when nothing’s really broken in the first place.
So it’s ok to take a few mis-steps on your journey. If you’re working in a creative field, chances are you didn’t come to market with just one perfect product. Like all creatives, you probably started out just doing what you loved, then adapted what you do, worked a bit harder, learnt a bit more, adapted again. Don’t be afraid to seek out education to help you level up a few notches, but don’t imitate. Grow your business organically, take time to figure out what you’re really bloody good at, and ask for help when you think you need it.
Don’t even let words like failure enter your mind. You haven’t failed until you’ve given up for good. Embrace being a work in progress.