So you’re looking for how to grow your wedding photography business! That’s awesome and I’m here to help you.
Did you know, most wedding photographers don’t make it to their fifth year in business? That’s crazy isn’t it?! When I heard this in my first year of business, I was determined to figure out how not to be part of that statistic and there was something so simple yet so profound that I learned along the way that was the most critical thing that helped me make it this far.
I realized that there is a massive problem that photographers fall prey to, most of the time without even realizing it.
That problem is that they believe is a business is something external you do to make money.
If this confuses you in any way, let’s back up and start simple, because it’s actually not your fault if you think of business as just this. Here’s a question for you…
What is a business?
Seems like a simple foundational question, however, the answer is not as straightforward.
I grew up assuming far too much so I always like to research things before I just buy into them now. Funny enough, the dictionary gives two immediate definitions for “business” when you google it.
One says that business is the practice of making one’s living by engaging in commerce. The other gets more specific in saying that business is a person’s regular occupation, profession, or trade.
I want to take a moment and break this down.
The dictionary says business is an occupation (a job), profession (being so exceptional at something you are given more money for it), or trade (buying and selling goods and services). So essentially, a business is a job that you get money for but if are exceptional at it, you get paid more money? Most would say yes. Pretty black and white however there is the missing piece that changes everything and although it applies to absolutely everyone in business, it is crucial to those of us who label ourselves as “artists”.
The most crucial piece missing in these definitions that changes the entire landscape business is value.
Now let’s take a step back. What would you say the biggest struggle humans deal with in today’s world?
We could throw out infinite answers but I’d say that gaining confidence and understanding of our own individual self-worth is every individual’s biggest struggle. In other words, it’s an understanding of our individual unique value.
Well, one of the many reasons is probably because we are all brought up with an education that teaches us to just go out into the world and make money so that we can survive in this system we’ve created. This answer never satisfied me as the puzzle didn’t feel complete with this understanding.
I think we can all agree that just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you can make great money at it. I could be the greatest technically sound photographer in the world but if I don’t know how to add value to peoples lives with my camera, what am I worth? I would be left to fall back on valuing myself based on the quality of the work (images) I created and thus upping my financial value simply by the demand for my work. This is old business.
I have found that most photographers have believed the lie that their worth is entirely built within the images they craft. (It’s funny how this belief can easily come partnered with crippling anxiety as well.)
Most people have come to believe that money is value, however, this wasn’t always the case. Ancient indigenous cultures didn’t have a physical currency like money, and instead, they were tasked with specific jobs based on what they were best at.
In the earliest days, men were hunters and women were the gatherers. Neither was more important than the other, rather we existed in balance and reciprocity and both were crucial to the survival of the tribe. As we evolved as a species, we began trading and bartering amongst each other based on what we were good at. When we no longer were focused on simply surviving, the intention we put forth towards the things in life that inspired us is how we ultimately began adding greater value to our communities, villages, tribes, etc. and evolved into what we have become today.
It was all about community and a community is all about relationships.
In my years as a wedding photographer, I have come to reject the definition that the world has taught about business and I’ve rewired my brain to believe a new one. I encourage you to start rewiring your brain towards this as well because it will change your world.
That definition would be that…
Business is the art of exchanging value.
How do you create value though? And what value do you bring to the table to exchange? Do you know how to communicate these things?
You hold an immense amount of value within you. You may not be aware of it yet but the best part is that how you individually create value is based on who you are, your awareness of the power you individually hold, and what you can bring to the table for anyone in need of what you have or know.
With that being said, knowledge and experience is not power unless is it organized and delivered in a consumable way.
Your business is simply your knowledge and experience around a specific subject and in life crafted into an experience that others can gain value from as long as it is delivered in a simple, easy, and clear way. This is why branding is the most important part of our business.
Branding is simply the experience of you and a great way to test your brand is to think about how other people talk about you behind your back.
Self-worth is something we all fight for every day and it’s something the world is slowly waking up to more and more as we progress and evolve as a species.
This is why I believe that business is truly just a path of self-discovery. There is no destination to understanding your individual self-worth.
It’s an ever-growing and deepening journey. The deeper you go, the more clarity you find. If there was a “destination” I would say it’s inner peace about your self and confidence in what you bring to the table but even those has infinite depth. I didn’t realize this when I began my business and when I started mentoring others, I realized how much power these two puzzle pieces brought to my life and to others.
As a business coach or brand mentor, I help ambitious wedding photographers build authentic, purposeful, and profitable brands that manifest into a life of abundance. Why? Because you don’t deserve to suffer through building a business and it doesn’t have to be hard. The more you understand yourself and others, the more inspired you will become in how you don’t have to be average but instead, you actually can impact the world and change it if you wish.
Have you ever heard someone make the statement “Take your business to the next level”? What exactly does that mean?
Most believe it means simply “get better at business”, I, however, take it as “go deeper in your business”.
I’m talking about literal levels. The idea of being “better” is subjective for everyone and is based on your interpretation of “success”. Some believe success is the accumulation of wealth and others would say it’s the feeling of fulfillment. I personally would say, like all things in life, it’s a balance of both sides.
You probably don’t want to become a rich ass-hole, but you also probably don’t want to become a homeless hippy. You want to land somewhere right in the middle where you live a really good life with people you love doing something that causes you so much gratefulness and joy, that it doesn’t even feel like work.
If you take the rich-asshole approach, you more than likely have to sacrifice relationships and work more, though if you take the homeless hippy approach, you more than likely sacrifice the things in life that money can buy you and in turn make less. Neither is right or wrong, it’s your own individual path and that’s all that matters. Because we aren’t aware of who we are, we tend to fall into a primal, animal-like state where we compare ourselves to everyone and fight to survive instead of understanding how to live in harmony and in turn thrive.
Now, there are three levels of business I want to break down and share about so that you can define where you are, decide where you believe you need to be, and hopefully, it brings more clarity towards where you may want to go in the future.
The last generation to lead this planet primarily believed that business was simply about economic advantage – build something that will generate money. This is why most business schools educate and encourage you to find a gap in the marketplace, fill it and in doing so, you will come out victorious on the other end with loads of cash. As the population of the planet rises year after year and more individuals enter the workplace, these gaps have become smaller and smaller. The result of this mentality is that we now live in a world where we have more problems than we can fathom nonetheless solve. More money, more problems. It’s not a lie.
Most develop this mindset because they’ve failed to realize that the landscape of business has been rapidly changing in the last 100 years. As technology has risen and our development and evolution as a species have progressed at an exponential rate, our approaches to business have deepened in a way that is not blatantly obvious anymore.
Now, no matter what level you choose to run your business on, you can find success both financially and in fulfillment. We are all at a different place on the path and no matter where you are, remember, there is no destination, just simply the individual journey. Pro Tip: Being that there is no destination means there is no race – anyone remember that community over competition phrase that went through the industry a few years back?
The bigger question I want to ask you is…
Do you want to work harder or do you want to work deeper?
Most people are aware of the first two levels but there has been a third introduced to the masses in the last century. When you choose to take this next level, you actually have the power to reach your vision much faster, find deeper happiness, and money will naturally flow to you.
If you want to build a great business, it first starts with you changing who you are. This does NOT mean becoming someone else, but rather this means leaning into the greatest parts of your self and then fighting like hell to build what you believe in, not to simply “get to the top”. You can not accomplish this without immense intention. Here are the three levels of business…
Level 1. The Generalist
The photographer who takes the path of The Generalist is the creative who Works More and Makes Less.
These are businesses that decide they are going to shoot everything – weddings, families, babies, seniors, commercial, products, dogs, and everything under the sun! They love photography and are fascinated by the craft so they take it all or maybe just a few. Now with anyone who is first starting out, I’d always recommend being a Generalist first.
You more than likely don’t know what you are most passionate about yet in the world of photography and this is your opportunity to find that. Shoot it all and see what pulls at your heartstrings. Follow your gut above everything.
You don’t have to start as a generalist though. If you know you want to shoot weddings, you can immediately begin being intentional about building your business on another level, all you have to do is find the right mentor to help you or self-educate yourself. You have what it takes. About half of the individuals that I work with year after year are in their first year of photography.
In my first four years of running a business (16-20 years old), I was a generalist. I shot everything in the world of photography from seniors to babies (that was a terrible choice), to families and corporate headshots, to products and weddings. I eventually found burn out due to the frustration of getting taken advantage of and never having a clue as to what I was doing other than taking pictures.
Why do Generalists Work More and Make Less?
They have no focus and they have not chosen a specific niche. Their approach is general and broad to the art of photography. Without precise focus of one area of photography, they can never effectively brand themselves, build trust as a specialist in one area, or ever really perfect their unique style as each area of photography takes a different technique.
Above all, they struggle to craft a systematized process of building value and worth behind what they do because they have so many different niches that all take a different approach and in turn, they have to generalize everything they do include their pricing, website, technique, etc. This is like me trying to be a painter, a drawer, a sculptor, and a wood carver and saying I’m an artist… sure you are an artist but you probably aren’t a very good one because you can’t be intentional with one area to master your craft. You are a jack of all trades but a master of none. The generalist relies on taking on a lot of projects that pay little and in turn, they work a lot for a survival-like paycheck. Most “freelancers” would fall on the generalist level.
“Sometimes we are artists and sometimes we are prostitutes.”
Level 2. The Specialist
The photographer who takes the path of the specialist is the creative who Works More and Makes More.
This is the primary route that photographers and most business people take in today’s world and although it leads to success, it takes more effort than what most people actually want to give. I believe this is why 20% of small businesses fail in the first year, 50% fail within the first 5 years and only 1/3 survive 10 years or more.
The specialist has a specific focus and even specific niche (to a degree) in photography. Sometimes they will have a unique style and may even shoot a certain kind of wedding.
In my first four years of running a business (16-20 years old), I struggled to decide on one area to specialize in (Generalist) and then I decided I was going to shoot weddings because I thought at the time, it was the most profitable option in the world of photography. I chased money because I thought that’s how I would find happiness at a young age. If you’ve made that same decision, then we can cry together knowing that in the same time we’ve built a profitable wedding photography career, we could’ve built a million dollar portrait studio… oh the decisions we make in life!
Why do Specialists Work More and Make More?
There are 6 Universal Truths of Influence in life that determine how psychologically humans interact in the world. 3 of them apply best with Specialist.
Consistency, Social Proof, and Authority.
Specialists work more and make more because they build a business in the traditional sense. They start doing something and put a price on it – most of the time this price is random. When they do it over and over again (become consistent at it), they start gaining momentum and more people will want what they have or do (Social Proof). Social proof says that because no one really knows what they want or because many don’t know what to do to get what they want, it’s easier to follow the masses.
This is what drives trends and what can trends do? They can easily mask the truth of self-worth.
If you do what everyone is doing and do it better than everyone else, than maybe people will see worth in you. Although trends can apply to us and reveal things that inspire us, constantly moving from trend to trend is life sucking and can be an endless cycle to get stuck in. Once someone starts gaining momentum and is compensated with tangible “value” (money), we all follow them and do what they do because if we too do that thing we may also make money.
This is the predictability of human beings. We all do this in some way with various things in life, not just in business.
This momentum will generate confidence, however, in some, this confidence is really just their ego fueled by their understanding or interpretation of success toward their accomplishments rather than in their fulfillment. Once they have built that confident ego, they fully believe they are doing something right because everyone is following them and it’s at this point that they start to take a place of authority on a specific subject (what they specialize in). Their momentum, confidence, and ego can be fueled to an even greater level at this point.
The route of the specialist is one that takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of work, but in the end, you can get lots of money! Yay! However, once you’ve wired your brain to believe that value is simply money, it may be next to impossible to ever stop trying to make money and instead you’ll die rich in a pile of money but possibly poor in spirit. The journey is different for everyone and those who are wise with money may make it to the end of their life and retire at a relatively young age. Hopefully, their physical and mental health at that time still allows them to do what they dream of doing right now in their life.
Most artists never retire because how can you stop creating if that drive in creativity is what inspires you in life? Maybe retirement for artists is just the shift of no longer being a prostitute with your craft and instead finally after years of hustling, doing what you actually want to do?
We’ll all find out.
I ran this way on my second attempt at business and again failed miserably once I hit a wall and realized everything I thought I ever wanted was my reality. I found out quickly that it wasn’t and that the work that came along with it, left me no time for anything else but my business.
No matter what path you choose, it’s never wrong, it’s just your journey. Remember, there is never a destination. Own it, never regret it but always be open to changing and growing. We don’t know what we don’t know.
“You no longer compete when you know who you are.”
Level 3. The Authenticist
The photographer who takes the path of the authenticist is the creative who Works Less and Makes More.
The route of the authenticist is one that is driven by the deeper unique purpose of you as an individual in this life and aims to create immense value around who you are rather than working like hell or hustling to make money for what you do. In my second business burn out, I fell into a dark depression due to realizing how much of my business was driven by my ego and although I was authentic with every one of my clients, my deeper intentions were to “be somebody”. I believe the only reason why I found the third level was through failing hard at the first two.
It took years of self-introspection, reading, and finding mentors that could help guide me out of my darkness and back into a state where I understood who I had become in the years of running my business, finding success, failing hard, and changing as an individual. When I was at my lowest of lows, I didn’t think it was possible to come back and reinvent myself and I’m grateful every single day for the individuals who shared their own failures, knowledge, and guidance to help me on my path. It’s what has driven me to help others as well.
When you specialize in a job, it’s value is limited by your mastery of that job. When you specialize in your self and find the deeper and more authentic parts of how you can affect another individual’s life and in turn how you can help change this world for the better, you find a deeper fulfillment, a more motivating purpose, and funny enough, a far easier route for making money.
On the path of the authenticist, you are no longer simply tied to a job because your specific purpose and awareness of self and others will drive your career and help you achieve everything you want to do, but more importantly what you are meant to do. Your focus is no longer on working for the end goal of money, but instead, you live and experience life in a greater way and in a more authentic way by chasing your purpose and finding more and more confidence in who you truly are, rather than what the world thinks you should be. You will also find how people, money, and opportunities, will reveal themselves at the perfect moment for you in the process. If you’ve read this far, maybe this is one of those opportunities.
I’m here to help you and if you feel like the path of the Authenticist is the path for you, I’d love for you to join me in my free Work Less Make More Facebook group. It’s a safe space for creatives who want to create longevity and a deeper purpose behind what they are doing. If you feel you are ready to dive in deep, schedule a free 30-minute strategy session by clicking here. This is a half hour video chat with me in which we’ll do a deep dive on your brand and I’ll leave you with actionables for moving forward.
When you lead with an authentic purpose, you have the power to be wildly profitable without the hustle of competing with other individuals. You’ll find deeper happiness and inner peace because you live your life and run your business in balance, and you’ll understand that work is not about a task list as much as it is a daily practice of leaning into your self and creating greater value for others.