Failure. No Thanks.

One day, not too long ago a photographer that I know from Halifax wandered into the Adventure Travel Company having seen the sandwich board outside announcing the Peru Art Show. As she started to have a look at the photos, I said hello to her and she recognized me. She then sat down and we had a chat as she gazed around at the photos.

The little chat of course quickly got to the fact that I had changed careers and she stated ‘I don’t blame you. The photography business is horrible. A bunch of us sit around and bitch about it all the time. There’s no work. No one values you. Some people just can’t take it and make any money at it, so I don’t blame you for changing careers.’

Bite your tongue Shari … bite it hard!

I politely told her that I hadn’t changed careers for any of those reasons and that it was just time in my life for a change. She skimmed over it and continued on about the death of the photography industry and so many people doing photos on their own with point and shoot cameras. She never heard a word I said because she was too wrapped up in her own negativity.

The fact of the matter is this …

If you sit and bitch about your job, that there is no work and no one values you … maybe you are the problem not the public at large. Maybe the industry isn’t dying, so much as it is looking elsewhere for better service. Or, maybe you simply aren’t selling your value. You can’t assume that people should think you are valuable! You need to prove your value to them.

I changed careers seven months ago for all kinds of reasons, but not for any one of the reasons that she was complaining about. I had no shortage of work. I had great clients who appreciated me and treated me well. Loyal and kind. You get what you give.

I changed careers for a different lifestyle, for a change in my life and although it is hard to believe, about a third of the money. That’s right folks. I make less than 1/2 of what I used to running my own business and I made that choice (not easily). Money simply does not equal happiness.

It has always amazed me from the time I was in photo school (many moons ago) at how negative the photography industry is as a whole. I can remember one of the photographers in our speaker series just before I graduated coming in to tell us about his part in the photography industry. After two years in school, he all but told us we wasted our time and money because there was no work and he was starving. I remember it so clearly. I was so angry that he had such a negative message for us when we were hoping to be inspired and excited to use our creativity. Not to mention that I had just put myself through school, while traveling every day from Truro, by doing photography on the side. I didn’t have any student loans to help support me and I had a mortgage to pay. Somehow I was making money, who was he to tell me that I was going to starve?

I knew from that moment on that in the photography business lots of people would fail and I did not want to be one of them … I came to learn that the photography business would be a bit catty and negative, so I avoided getting involved in a lot of that and concentrated more on the business aspect than mingling with fellow photographers. Although, there were positive conferences and get togethers it could be quite “clique-y” and sometimes very negative. Most of the well established photographers (5-10 years ago) were scared to death to talk about anything business related with someone up and coming. It made it difficult and un-welcoming to newbies, so you just had to find your own way.

I always shared everything I could with students, taking several on over the years as interns and then hiring several of them to work for me as well. If they asked me a question about the business I answered. I didn’t hide my ‘secrets’ of good business. I took some of them networking with me, others I sent on shoots by themselves. I wanted them to have a positive influence in the photography field rather than the often negative, jaded ones that are out there.

Now, there are several of the ‘younger’ generation of photographers who do the same and are willing to talk about business and how things work behind the scenes. The stuff you don’t learn in school.

What I learned through a lot of struggles was that my photography business would survive and thrive on three things:

1. My work being good. Although I have never been ‘the best’ photographer in Halifax. My work is good and appeals to a lot of people. And, photography is an ‘art’, so who can really determine ‘the best’ photographer in Halifax?
2. How good I was at running a business. This is where most photographers fail. They think that they can just be good photographers and everything else will fall in place. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. You have to be a business person as well as a creative. Not everyone can pull that off.
3. ** MOST IMPORTANTLY ** How much people like me as a person, connect with me and trust me. No one wants to hire a photographer whose work they love but who barks orders at them, asks for final payment at awkward moments in front of wedding guests, is disorganized or unprofessional.

In my 10 years in business, I have grown as a photographer, I have become a successful and respected business person. However, more than anything, the reason that people hired me is for me. It may sound cocky … which any of my friends and colleagues know that I am not … So, if it isn’t me just blowing my own horn, how do I know that’s why people hired me?

It’s simple. Two reasons.

1. My clients were loyal and still are. Many of my clients from 10 years ago were still clients when I decided to make my career shift and many of them treat me like part of the family. I’ve crashed on the couch in Ottawa at a wedding client’s home, I’ve travelled abroad with a portrait client, I’ve been invited to birthday parties, new year’s eve celebrations and much more … and not to take photos, but simply to enjoy. I’ve also photographed many clients children from maternity to 10 years old. I’ve watched their kids grow.

2. When I went to casual photography instead of full-time, many of my photography clients have now turned to me as their travel agent. That has nothing to do with me being good at photography … it has everything to do with the relationships I built with those clients over the past ten years.

When photographers who are starting out or who are struggling with their business ask me for advice … my advice is build relationships. Be good at your art and learn to run a business. If you are only good at one of these things, then your business will not succeed. Your option is to struggle through it and become bitter, or to hire someone to help you with the parts you aren’t as good at.

While some people out there assume that I failed or closed up shop as a photographer because I couldn’t make it work, I know that I succeeded because I ran a successful business for 10 years and then changed careers before I became bitter and jaded. I made a change for myself and I kept relationships with people who I will continue to do business with in a different capacity. Failure to me would have been to stay in an a job that I wasn’t passionate about and end up treating clients poorly or not delivering on what I promised.

Failure? No thanks.
New opportunities and moving forward. Yes Please!