Earlier this week in the AIBP Member Community on Facebook, a photographer asked for help in dealing with her fear of going full time and giving up her regular job. It's a milestone event and one that just about everybody has gone through at one time or another.
I tried to call her with some suggestions, but when she didn't respond (because she was stuck at her day job), I jumped in with some advice. Here's the thing, 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 just dealing with your fear. If you've developed a strong 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. This 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 great job as President of WPPI and Rangefinder Magazine five 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.
Now, let's hit a few things you can do to help pave the way to building a strong foundation for expanding your business.
Start with a direct mail, personal letter to all of your past clients. Unless you've been a complete bozo your past clients are your best ambassadors. Then, do a similar letter to all vendors associated with your specialty - it's pretty much anybody who might ever need photographic support from a head shot to product images.
Next on the list is your blog...your website is about what you sell, your blog is about 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 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 in photography.
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. Also, 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 being good to your community.
Do a complete website makeover...seriously, many of you do boudoir and glamour shots, but you never look at your own sites or Facebook pages and consider your own "makeover". Start with your about section and it should be in first person and only 3-4 paragraphs all 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.
Next, CLEAN UP THOSE GALLERIES! Seriously, 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 it "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 literally 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.
Start a networking luncheon - get everyone together once a month who has anything to do with your target audience. You're just looking for an inexpensive place for lunch, hopefully with a private corner. For boudoir: if you're full time, you'd 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 post card 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 anymore than 2-3 partners in any promotion.
Look, 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! In fact, the more I look at the list so far, the more appropriate they 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.
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.