You read my blog and you are one of the people I have been trying to help in recent years to go their own way with photography. Whether learning to take pictures or being a photographer as a profession.
No matter, so back to you.
I thought about those 10 years and how my path has changed and developed in that time.
So I take my anniversary as an opportunity to write this small list of things that, in retrospect, I would have liked to know or have heard 10 years ago, when I got my business license and thus decided to turn photography into my profession.
I learned a lot of it from others along the way, I learned a lot of it “on the hard tour”, but i’m happy with everything you read here and I’m sure it’s crucial that I’m still successful with what I’m doing.
And because I also want this for you, here is my list which I would like to send to my self 10 years ago today:
1 No, ver***** again, photography as a profession is NOT dead!
Before we get to my real “learnings”, that has to be out for a moment. Sorry for my *** expression here, but I can’t and don’t want to hear this ***** nonsense that has flooded the internet and real life for so long.
At the age of 14 (and that is now a remarkable 20 years ago!) I discovered my passion for photography, which was only blossoming and burning at that time, and i really wanted to become a photographer.
The main reason I left this was people who told me the following motivating story at the time: “Photography as a profession? That is no longer possible, that is dead. Either you become a world-famous photographer with a studio in New York, but hardly anyone can do that.
This paragraph could be terribly long and sound terribly unfriendly, even hard to read because of censorship. I want to spare you both, so I’ll do it briefly – see the title of this point:
No, this profession is not dead.
It has only changed.
And anyone who manages to see this change and move with it has a wonderful profession. I would like to talk about his peculiarities in the next points
What is indeed dead is the professional image of the photographer from 30 years ago.
But let’s face it, which profession hasn’t changed in the last 30 years?
2 Entrepreneurial thinking will be your most important skill
I don’t know why I didn’t know that completely from day one.
Photography, like any creative industry, has been going through a small “crisis” for some time.
This crisis is not entirely illogical.
Digital cameras have not only become cheaper, they have also become considerably more powerful.
Every smartphone today has a camera that delivers sensational quality.
And she’s always there.
In your pocket.
Just like that.
Yes, today everyone is actually a bit of a photographer. And if you’re interested in making more of it, it’s relatively easy and quick to learn how to take better photos. Can deal with the technology and make great progress in a few months.
You can become a photographer today without any training.
So it’s not too surprising that this has shaken the profession of photographer somewhat, to put it mildly.
In the past it was possible to open a small shop with photos that were “quite ok” from today’s point of view, to photograph and live off all weddings, baptisms and events in the vicinity.
That is hardly possible today!
And it will soon be completely impossible.
If you want to survive independently as a photographer or creative, you have to be much more than a technical service provider who can use his tool.
You need a vision, a clearly recognizable orientation, your work must be “outstanding”, so be recognizable at all times and you must offer your customers “added value”. Terrible word, I know. But that’s the way it is.
Think from the beginning about what you’re going to do for your customers, what of their problems you can solve, and how you’re bringing real value to their business.
Position yourself as much more than just a technical service provider.
This has several advantages:
- You will offer something that not every person who buys a camera and learns to deal with can offer.
- You will become a valuable partner for your customers, not just a service provider they get at every turn. That also means.
- You will be able to enforce your prices much more easily, because you are not just someone who offers simple technical services.
- Believe me, this is also much more fun in the long run, because at some point in your photos a little routine comes
3 People buy 50% of your work as a photographer and 50% you!
That sounds weird, I know. And it quickly resonates with this sentence, I also know. So give me a minute to share my related experience:
I don’t want to tell you that you get through with bad work.
I think we should all make an enormous demand on our work as photographers.
I even think we should be so good in everything we do that we can ignore algorithms because we don’t need to trick them into getting many “followers” and “likes” that are actually worthless (so valuable already, but only for the respective company like Instagram But that’s a different story)
I also think photography has an artistic ambition and we should be fair…
There is no question about that.
But I really learned this point – if you want to earn a living as a photographer with your work, then it is not enough to take beautiful, professional photos.
Your work can be as excellent as it is, you can take the most beautiful photos in the world, how successful you are as a professional photographer is not determined by it alone.
You may not like that.
I didn’t like it at the beginning.
I actually thought, “That’s unfair. If one takes better photos than the other and still gets the job, that’s * (Set a flight of your choice here)
But you know what, it’s not.
You only have to change the roles for a short time.
Imagine you have a project, a budget and are looking for service providers.
You have two to choose from.
Both do a good job for you. In any case, the difference in quality is not noticeable to you.
One is focused only on his work, seems unkind to you, inaccessible, dismissive, cool, self-loving, talking only about himself and his work,… just not a pleasant person with whom you would like to spend time.
The other is a friendly, open person who walks up to you, has a strong demeanor, shakes your hand, is interested and with whom you can well imagine having a coffee and just having a chat about the last weekend…
What do you think you’re going to book?
Again – I have no way in front of you to tell you that you are falsifying the “friendly economy”. You should deliver your best possible work, get better, learn,… All this is important.
But also work on your “social skills”, which account for at least 50% of your success.
In addition to your real competence, there is also something like a “feeling competence” and this is much more important for your new customer acquisition in the first step than the actual competence. That, too, would be worth an article of its own. When I find time I do it
So, keep an eye on social skills, be nice person, but!
Know the limits and therefore don’t like everything. This brings us to the next point:
4 Pay attention to the quality of your customers
Yes, it’s not just about the quality of your work, your actual and felt competence, it’s also about the quality of your customers.
An experience I had many years ago and from which Fortunately I have really learned: Some customers believe that they buy your serfdom when they book you as a service provider. One where they can unload all their rubbish and let out all their unkindness.
You don’t have to like everything.
Not only your work should have quality, also pay attention to the quality of your customers!
For me, it was, in fact, 2 such experiences. At the first i thought “I’m not doing this anymore”, the second time I made myself extremely unpopular when I made it clear where my limits are.
And in hindsight, that was absolutely right.
Without depositing all the endless related stories here in full length; There will be customers who always know everything better.
Those who will tell you “but it’s certainly better, isn’t it? I’ve seen this once with a friend who has ….” while you don’t have to laugh out loud or get a red head.
There will be sentences that could make it into anecdote books.
Take that, explain to them why this is not possible, show your competence (which of course you must also have!).
If all this is rampant, seek the conversation and tell them clearly that they have booked you and your skills, just WEIL they can’t do it themselves, but you do it professionally.
If they don’t trust you and work with you on the project, they make it impossible for you to do your best job.
Your customer can do whatever your customer can do as well as you can, what you can.
A “good customer” knows this and meets you on an equal footing.
(Oh yes and write along. For the anecdote book
5 You are not an employee, you do not have a boss!
And again – the customer is not always king. Disrespect to you or your co-workers is not something you should accept.
Some customers believe they buy you for the time of collaboration as an “employee” who also appears at weekly meetings and to which you can outsource anything.
Worse still, some self-employed people take years to understand that they are not “free employees” now and should not behave in this way.
If you see yourself as a “freelancer” that you book for a project period and then submits to the customer’s schedule, (logically, we’re not talking about schedules like wedding dates or reports that have to take place just then. By this i mean the team meetings that your customer organizes for their employees and then invites you to listen forever even though this is not relevant to you) then you should not be surprised if you soon feel like an employee, only without the advantages of employment. Because that’s what you’re doing!
I would have preferred to have understood much more clearly much earlier that I had to see myself as an entrepreneur and also carry it to the outside world in order to prevent this.
Your company, your rules!
Luckily, I have now understood this and also protect my team from people who do not know how to treat other people with respect. The team has not only permission, but also the obligation to cancel the “customer contact” in case of disrespect friendly but clearly.
Respect, like so much, goes far ahead of turnover. As a sole trader, this should always be kept in mind.
6 Speaking of price – offering cheap doesn’t help anyone, but it hurts you
Especially when you start, there is a great temptation to offer as cheaply as possible.
I understand that.
You might think “better cheap job than none at all.”
In addition, one also questions whether one can ask for so much at all, when one is only beginning, etc.
In the worst case, the calculation of one’s own fee has not yet been dealt with. (Then, by the way, please get back to the desk quickly, without a clean calculation and a clear view of your pricing, you shouldn’t even start. You don’t jump out of a plane without a parachute. I hope)
After 10 years of self-employment, I can only tell you one thing – if you bid cheaply, you don’t help anyone, but you’re hurting yourself!
Your customer will not benefit, even if he believes it at first glance. After all, if you bid cheaply, you have stress.
Maybe not right with your first customer. Maybe not in the second or third.
But if you offer several times too cheaply, you will feel it.
You will slowly realize that all this cannot turn out and you will come under a little time pressure.
You will realize that you need twice and three times as many missions as you have to survive this.
Then you will get pressure and stress.
What do you think of the quality of your work?
I’ll tell you – you won’t be able to do the best possible work in the long run.
But that’s exactly what you should be doing. Every day. Deliver your best.
Your customer benefits from this – after all, he gets the best work he can buy from you for money.
And you’ll benefit from that – your portfolio will be supplemented by another piece of good work = another step towards growth.
If you make your price a bargain and participate in the price discount (which, by the way, exists in every industry, not just in photography) we will ruin your desire to work in the long run, you will constantly just complain about your “stupid customers”, the quality of your work will decrease, so that again the quality of your customers etc… A downward spiral from which it is difficult to get out again.
Even if you find 1000 arguments why you have to offer cheaply, “because the others do it” – believe me, the opposite is the case. Ending in a price war sooner or later actually means your end. You MUST stay out of this price war, the sooner, the better.
If you think you have to do this because you have to build up your portfolio first, here’s another radical suggestion:
7 Full price or free
Clearly, how can you charge “normal prices” from the beginning without a portfolio and corresponding references (and again, we’re not talking about high prices when we’re talking about 1,500 daily rates.)
If I started again today at 0, my strategy would be crystal clear and radical:
Either full price, or free.
I would charge my fee as described in the link. (Among us, that’s about twice as high as what I asked for when I started , but I only did that for a few months to somehow gain a foothold. At that time it was still going so)
Then I would set exactly this fee and stop negotiating. (If you don’t feel stable enough when it comes to price discussion to avoid a negotiation in the first place, just count 10% room for negotiation on top of it that you can let down later)
For customer enquiries I would offer exactly at this price.
If this is too expensive for them, I would decide for myself whether this client has real value for me and my portfolio. And I’m not referring to those who want to tell you ,we’ll feature you on our Instagram account, come on, that’s paid enough.”
If it was worth it for me to do this job, I would offer it for free.
Free for me means at the same time that I am no longer bound by instructions!
That means I get something from the “customer” (who is no longer because he doesn’t pay) something that I can photograph as I want, which I wouldn’t otherwise get to or would find difficult, so that we can both use it for our purposes.
I know this is a radical approach and I can hear the crowd coming over me to explain that I would ruin my own industry with such ideas.
I can only tell you right on the spot – the photography industry is ruined by 2 things. Bad work and cheap prices.
This is just one approach to getting into this business these days. And of course it is only intended for a short period of time or individual project ideas. In the long run, this approach cannot even delude oneanother to survive economically.
Which, by the way, succeeds very well with cheap prices. And ends in drama.
8 Learn to invest better
Yes, of course, at the beginning money is usually not available.
Fortunately, I immediately reinvested a large part of the proceeds from the beginning.
In equipment, cameras, flashes, tripods, bags and what you need to do your job as a photographer anyway.
But also in things like further education and coaching (enormously important!) or a tax advisor (necessary for survival!).
I know the argument “I can’t afford” very well. From me and in response from countless coaching clients and workshop participants.
I know it, I understand it, but it is not a mistake.
You can’t afford to.
You don’t have to be able to afford an investment, because a smart investment brings back more than it “costs”. In retrospect, I should have invested even more earlier.
I like to take my tax advisor as my favorite example.
If I decided I couldn’t afford it, I would spend a lot of time on accounting.
“Yes, but that saves a lot of money”.
No, it doesn’t. It costs you twice as much money:
You can’t! (Yes, I know that :))
I used to be in the hotel school and “learned” accounting there. Apart from the fact that my teacher was a disaster, I learned one important thing: 99% of creatives are unable to deal with this matter properly. You really have to like to do it and get along really well so that you can do it well and right. Whether you do it well or “somehow” makes a significant difference in the numbers that come out at the bottom. In other words, if you pay someone who can do it really well, it will definitely pay off at the end of the year!
If you do it yourself, it won’t be so good and the bottom line is you’re going to pay more taxes that the state wouldn’t have been allowed to pay.
Your time also costs
That’s why it costs you twice. Once you’ve calculated your hourly wage or your fee as a photographer, you’ll notice that every hour you work costs you money. In the time you’re desperately trying to get your company’s accounting right, even though there are professionals who can do it far better than you, you could do what you enjoy for a client and make more money than the tax advisor costs you. Or at least just as much.
What were my best investments?
My tax advisor. Was also my first, right after the camera. When I look at how bitter this world of numbers is with tax advisors, I don’t want to imagine what it would be like without it. Without exaggeration, without me I would have been done long ago.
All the workshops, coachings, books and online courses I have ever bought. Getting knowledge from those who are already a bit ahead of you is priceless.
Employees. At the very beginning I tried to do everything on my own. I quickly realized that if someone helps me, I can work much faster and more effectively. So I took changing assistants to individual jobs.
One of them has shown so clearly that he really wants it, so at some point I offered to book him.
He is still with me and I now call him the “First Officer”.
He takes on more and more of my tasks and keeps my back so that I can take care of what I actually wanted to do – to produce portrait projects and content. So courses, videos and articles like this one
And that brings us back to the next point on my list:
9 Learn to delegate and outsource
Looking back, I waited too long. It took me too long to learn.
Ask yourself as often as possible – at least once a week at the beginning – very detailed (don’t ask for a moment in your head, sit down and write down, take time to do so!) “What is it that I really want to do and why I set up my own business?”
And then look at what you’re actually doing all day.
You will find that you spend only a small part of your time with what you actually wanted to do.
In my case – photograph and film.
The rest – for the most part – time you will spend with other things that you didn’t really have on the screen before.
That’s ok, that’s part of it when you’re self-employed. There are many things that you have to think, decide, learn and do. And you have to do it all yourself at the beginning. Just because only you can decide how it is “right” for you.
Once you’ve decided how things should go, what your appearance should look like, what the order should look like in your bills, and all these things you’ve had to start “todos,” it’s desperately necessary for you to start outsourcing.
See point 1 – you will tell yourself “I can’t afford this”.
But the truth is, as soon as you notice something about your work that has to be done over and over again, but is not part of your core competencies, you should consider outsourcing it.
For each of these todos, there is someone who really likes to do it and sees it as his own core competence – so it does it really well.
So both sides will win again: you give someone a job that they really enjoy, you’ll get it done better than if you do it yourself and you’ll have more time to do your own job, which will lead to more orders/turnover…
10 Sales and marketing are now your profession!
These 2 words avoid most creatives.
Many even find it repulsive.
“Peter, he doesn’t take good photos, he can only do marketing”.
The nasty answer would be — “Yes and, then he can do something better than you, maybe you’d rather ask how?!”
Seriously, back to point 1 – learn to think entrepreneurially.
Learn to deal with sales and marketing (and no, that’s not the same) and work. Otherwise you have no independence, no business, are not a professional photographer but have an expensive hobby.
That’s ok, photography as a hobby is great.
Just not if you want to convince yourself that you are making a living from it.
You need to learn the basics of marketing to understand why people buy something.
A first little tip – women don’t buy shoes because they are so practical and have such great features.
Women buy shoes because of the feeling they will have when they buy them and wear them for the first time. (That’s why so many of them are in the closet)
Without trying too much clitsy here – people rarely buy because of the “features”, but because of the feeling that hangs on their purchase.
Does that mean you should turn shit into gold and sell garbage overpriced?
This takes revenge anyway after a very short time.
This is a short time to make money.
That’s just as long as you’re selling rubbish.
But once you understand the principle, you will also see the difference between successful brands and companies and unsuccessful ones. You will see that all who have been successful have understood how to approach marketing and sales correctly.
Of course, this also applies to photographers.
Let’s take wedding photographers as an example.
Why are there wedding photographers for 500,- and even less, while others only start at 5,000,- per wedding.
Both basically deliver the same thing – wedding photos.
Both spend a whole day at the wedding, take photos, then deliver them to the newlyweds.
What makes the difference?
If you demand high prices, you also have to deliver high quality. There is no question about that, and we assume that.
But there are also plenty of wedding photographers who are better than their prices suggest.
And you won’t be able to sell this price to a newlywed sedan just with phrases like “we make the nicer photos, really, definitely”.
Very very unlikely.
You have to learn marketing to find the right customers that are even eligible for you. And when they are with you, you have to learn to sell to complete the contract.
And don’t get a false picture of it now – you don’t have to buckle up a belly shop and “sell”.
That’s just the horrible idea that creative son has of sales.
In truth, this is just a little bit of psychology and nothing evil, but something that we are confronted with day after day.
We choose the brand that grabs us emotionally, catches us “on the right foot,” and rarely for those who list the better “features”.
So learn the psychology behind marketing and sales (nothing that can be summed up in a paragraph of a blog article, sorry) and, most importantly, stop inferring yourself from your own customers.
Just because you might not pay 5,000,- for it doesn’t mean you won’t find customers who will be very happy to pay 5,000.-.
You are not your customer.
And at the end of the day, stop wanting to do it to everyone or to integrate your social vein into your business.
I am also aware of this problem. Whoever asked me if it would be cheaper because “you know, it’s really tight”… immediately received a pity discount from me.
But do you know what? You’re doing a lot of harm to yourself!
So I started to separate clearly.
My social vein has received a charitable project at least once a year that I have chosen myself.
Not because I have fallen into the dark side of power, but because it only makes sense for everyone.
I just want to survive my job without working sick and I want to choose myself when I work for someone for free.
No bad vibes
(And because I’m now in my 10th year, there’s also an 10th point
11 Learn to meditate. Now!
Stop. Please stay.
Even if you now expect wrap skirts and incense sticks. Don’t worry, what I mean has nothing to do with it!
I’m not going to tell you to hug trees, and you don’t have to dance your name!
Meditation has (finally) also arrived in neuroscience and is an incredibly powerful and helpful tool. I gained my first experience with it 10 years ago, but I didn’t really find “my way” in it, so I left it. And started again. And serene. And started. And now I’m sat with it.
Self-employment is an enormously strenuous process with many ups, downs, efforts and stress.
If you had a very very simple means of getting the most out of you with minimal effort and it wouldn’t cost you anything, would you do it?
Of course. You’re not an idiot.
And that’s why you should be involved in meditation.
It’s not magic, it’s not a Woodoo shit, and you’re not promised holiness.
It’s nothing more than a simple workout that helps you train and maintain your brain, your immune system, your energy level and your overall health at a stable, strong level.
Just as you’ve been shown to train your biceps when you lift a 10 kilos of dumbbell a day.
And that’s what you’ll need on this journey.
More than anything else
Finally, a question that I still hear very often:
“And, would you do it again if you knew what was coming”?
It would be more unpleasant if I knew how hard it can get in between, clearly.
But would I want to refrain from going all the way, being able to look back on it and sitting here in my studio for which I’ve ripped up the famous a****h, with portraits of super exciting people on the wall That I’ve done, a book project in progress, the best first officer in the world, a 5-person team with which the work is fun , every day i can do what I loved doing when I was 14?
Of course not!
Just this ingenious feeling, mixed with awakening, joy and schiss, that I had when I put this business license on the table at home, I will never forget.
So you should still read and consider whether to do it or not, very clear answer