Lately, it seems like once a week somebody puts out a tweet or Facebook post they're about to make the move to being a full-time photographer. Along with that statement is often a collection of comments related to anxiety and fear. However, when a photographer gets to the point of giving up their day job, it usually means the passion for the craft has taken over.
I've been in this industry my entire adult life, and I've seen so many great passionate photographers make the same mistakes. There's nothing wrong with pursuing your dream of being a full-time artist, but when you jump in, and you're not prepared, that's when the pain starts.
So, let's start with talking about your fear. If you've developed a solid skill set, that's the first thing you need on your side. Remember, any moron can get their first client. The key is getting the second, third and fourth ones, and then getting that first one to come back. Photography isn't a career path where you can fake it 'til you make it!
Getting out on your own is supposed to create a little fear - if it didn't then everybody would be doing it. It took me most of my life to finally get out on my own, and I was terrified when leaving a terrific job as President of WPPI and Rangefinder Magazine over eight years ago.
What was I afraid of? Failure! This is the part where my wife, Sheila, played such an important role and it's something everybody needs when you make a change like this - a great support network, whether it's just one person or a whole bunch of friends and family.
Let's hit a few things you can do to help pave the way to building a strong foundation for building your business.
Start with direct mail - a personal letter to all of your past clients. Unless you've been a complete bozo, your past clients are your best ambassadors. Then send a similar message to all vendors in your community associated with your specialty - it's pretty much anybody who might need photographic support from a headshot to product images.
Next on the list is your blog...your website is about what you sell, your blog is about what's in your heart. The two play together, and it's great to share the topic of exciting things you want to be able to share with the community. Don't express your fears - only the excitement of new products/services you're going to offer (call your lab, album company, and framer). You don't need to show your fears - this isn't about lack of confidence, but your excitement to have so much community support that you have to go full-time.
What are you doing to make yourself different from everybody else? Look for things that aren't being done in your community and then make that part of what you offer. Get involved in your community! People like buying products and services from companies they perceive as giving back. You want the community to be good to you, so you better make damn sure you're good to your community.
Do a complete website makeover! Many of you do boudoir and glamour shots, but you never look at your own website or Facebook page and consider the need for a "makeover." Start with your "About" section, and it should be in the first person and only 3-4 paragraphs about why you love being a photographer/artist. This is about writing an artist's statement - nobody cares what you shoot with, how many awards you've won or how you got started - this is about sharing your heart.
CLEAN UP THOSE GALLERIES! If it's not a "wow" print, then dump it. Always ask, "If this was the only image I could show, would I get hired?" If the answer is "No" then don't put it up on your site.
Pound the pavement - identify every business owner within a couple of square miles of your location and walk in and introduce yourself. You don't have to sell anything, just let them know your skill set as an artist and photographer in the community and your availability to help with any of their photographic needs.
Start a networking luncheon - get everyone together once a month who has anything to do with your target audience. You're looking for an inexpensive place for lunch, hopefully with a private room. For boudoir: if you're full-time, you will invite managers from a spa or two, salon, florist, women's clothing, etc. Weddings are more obvious with florists, bakers, venues, salons, tux shops, travel agents, limo companies, wedding planners, caterers, etc. Imagine the network you'd start to build if you were seated in between a florist and a caterer. Pets and Children would have the same kind of logical "partners."
Don't forget to include a few photographers in your networking luncheon - you can't shoot every job that comes your way! Look to build relationships with people whose skill sets compliment yours.
Put your phone number on your website! Give people a way to contact you along with your email address - do NOT go with just a template contact form. You want to respond to each request with incredible speed! A fast response time is going to help separate you from most of your competitors.
Start building relationships with potential partners to cross-promote. For example, a spa, a makeup artist, and a photographer might be perfect to share the cost of a postcard mailing along with an email blast to women who fit the demographics for a boudoir session. Wedding photographers could easily partner with a florist and a caterer. You don't need any more than 2-3 partners in any promotion.
Share the cost of promoting each other's business, but don't stop there. Cross-promote with special offers on each other's products and services. This is about relationship building and what makes it so compelling is that each partner becomes an ambassador for the other companies.
It's okay to be nervous about stepping things up, especially if you're about to give up your day job - but there are a whole bunch of ideas here to help you make those first steps more successful! The more I look at the list so far; the more appropriate these points are not just for starting a new business but relaunching one that's stalled.
Most important of all stay focused on your dream and don't let the "Negators" in your life get to you. They're only jealous of your passion!
Good luck - you know where to find me if I can help.