A few weeks ago a photographer friend asked me to look at his website/work & give feedback as a fellow professional, a friend, & a former bride. I warned him that I love to do this kind of thing; I reminded him that I went to art school & spent an insane amount of hours in class watching & critiquing others' work. I'm sure if someone accidentally stumbled into one of those classes, he would have thought we were all crazy just staring at a 5 second piece of animation on loop for 20 minutes at a time. But I digress.
I emailed him my thoughts & observations on his work & website, & later he called to talk more about it. As we talked, I recognized a lot of his problems & hurdles as very similar things I went through at some point or another with my own business.
So, I decided to pass along a few bits of insight to anyone who might be struggling with their business or wanting to start their own business.
TIP #1: At one point in our conversation, my friend said that when he looked through his latest wedding, he "just wasn't happy." So, I asked him, What specifically were you unhappy with? I told him to figure out what he didn't like about his work & fix it. For me, it was posing. Once I acknowledged that as one of my weaknesses, I had something bite-sized I could focus on & fix, instead of wallowing in woe is me EVERYTHING I do is terrible & I don't know why world. I looked through magazines & blogs for poses I liked. I practiced in the mirror. (Y'all, I'm not kidding. I still do this.) Slowly I became more comfortable with posing my clients, my clients were obviously more comfortable in front of the camera when I confidently directed the shoot, & I was so much happier with the results.
TIP #2: This is a follow up to Tip #1. Make time outside of your photo shoots to hone your skills once you've pinpointed your weaknesses. If it's posing, knowing your camera settings, or working with an off-camera flash that is your hang up, a few hours of homework can save you fumbling around in front of your clients & result in better quality photos.
TIP #3: Find pros that you respect & follow their blogs for ideas, tips, & advice. I love a good blog, & I've found several pros that have just been a wealth of information, all for free too! Several of these pros do offer additional training sessions or webinars that do cost extra, but sometimes they are worth it. My warning though is that some of these pros blog & send out mass emails every day, which gets overwhelming. I've learned to skim articles to see if I can apply any of it to my business before studying the whole thing & to disregard articles entirely when I simply don't have time to read it at all.
I've been following some pros long enough that I've seen most of their content recycled a few times. While recycled content might initially come across as lazy on their part or useless on my end to keep reading any blog for more than a few months, I've noticed that I've been implementing a lot of their advice without realizing it. Repetition! It's a good thing!
(Side note: I use feedly.com to keep up with all of my blogs. I know there are several other websites dedicated to the very same thing, so find one that you like & take advantage of all the great advice out there.)
TIP #4: Have a friend/peer critique your work, which is exactly what my friend was doing when he called me. I know it's hard putting yourself out there, but if you are serious about getting serious, you can't skip this step. Find someone in your industry you know, respect, &/or trust, & get their advice–someone who will give you constructive criticism, & not just bash everything without reason. Also, find someone who isn't in your industry (someone who isn't a photographer/designer), because these are the people you are (probably) advertising to, & their feedback can be just as helpful.
TIP #5: Similarly, bounce ideas off of friends. I have a small circle of friends whom I call/text/email fairly often when I have a new idea or question. I get their advice on anything from new products to responses to tough email questions. When I first started offering prints, I sat down with my mom (who was an experienced photo buyer) to come up with print packages that made sense & would be attractive to other clients.
I hardly have everything figured out, but I have a clear idea of what I should do when I feel stuck, uninspired, or out of my element. Ask questions. Read books & blogs. Call your friends. Reach out & befriend fellow photographers in your area & grab lunch.
Looking back on this list, I can honestly say that I still do every single one of these tips. To continuously grow in my profession, I am constantly looking for things I can improve upon. I scour the internet for inspiration. I practice in the mirror. I run almost everything by my husband & friends. Then I do it all again when I have a new idea.
Shampoo, rinse, repeat.