This post is a guest post by Tanya Hirschy.
When I first timidly started my photography business a few years ago I would frequently hear, “I didn’t know you took pictures.”
“Me neither” my response would be, followed by nervous laughter. This showed my lack of confidence and slightly revealed how overwhelmed I was. Maybe you can relate.
Then all at once my young business unexpectedly exploded with clients. Here’s how I handled the overwhelm and uncertainty I felt about my success so early.
Before going professional, I wasn’t the person taking a million pictures at every function. I didn’t pick up my first camera when I was four. In fact barely even had a desire to learn how to use a professional camera. I know that’s not typical, but honest. The only thing I had was an ‘eye’ for certain things (so I had been told) and a best friend who was a photographer. On a whim I asked if I could borrow her back up camera–a Canon 40d–and if she could teach me a few things.
After the first picture I took with that camera I was hooked. I was shocked by the quality of image I saw and started to practice continually. After a month or two, my friend took a look and started raving about my natural eye. I thought she was just being nice, but after a long while of convincing me, and inviting me to shadow her, I started to believe her. I loved the invigorating feeling of having taken a great picture–even if it was an accident at that point. I started to dream about really getting into photography professionally.
Long story short, I did. I invested in the best equipment (that took some courage) and started my business. And here’s the really good part: my friend moved away shortly after and referred all her clients to me! I was soon a brand new photographer swimming in inquiries from people who loved my friend’s work and were looking for a new photographer with a similar style.
Feeling overwhelmed and unsure?
That’s how I got my start. In the beginning, it seemed as though my business was building itself and I was trying to keep up with it. I was slightly overwhelmed and at times felt like I shouldn’t be charging these people money. Having a client base tossed in your lap probably isn’t a typical story, but being overwhelmed and unsure is a familiar story to many.
I was figuring out how to run an already growing business while still figuring out manual mode. Looking back, I think there were a couple of things that kept my business growing and stable. Here are the two things I implemented:
1. Learn a little, use it a lot.
In college I discovered a language-learning principle called “learn a little use it a lot.” The idea is that instead of learning 20 different phrases and becoming confused and discouraged with the process, focus on one or two until you feel so confident that you don’t even have to think about it. That’s why the main thing I remember from high school french class is “Ja m’apelle Tanya,” because we said it every day.
Transfer that to photography and simply pick one or two areas that you want to improve and work on it until it becomes natural. This is essential because it’s important to feel even a small measure of success so that you can continue to be excited and encouraged in your work.
Before every session I would list 1, maybe 2, things that I wanted to focus on during that session and then made it happen. Soon each point became second nature. Here are some examples of things I focused on at different stages. Yes, I know some of these seem silly, but sometimes I just needed to go back to the basics.
- Don’t cut off people’s heads (I had a bad habit of ruining a great picture because I was trying too hard to do creative cropping)
- Slow down so I can focus on interacting with my clients and not be a crazy picture-taking machine
- Posing: Pick 3-4 poses beforehand and focus on those, rather than drawing a blank and panicking
- Keep my camera steady for better focus
- Get the exposure on the correct setting
- Affirm the client so that they feel positive
- Make sure my f-stop is adjusted for large groups vs single subjects
- Loosen up and be creative. Do what I think is best, not what I think they want. They hired me for my eye and my style.
- Look for a different angle
I still do this sometimes before shoots. For example, on this recent newborn shoot I was focusing on two things: maximizing the natural window light and trying out 3-4 new poses. That focus helped to make it an amazing shoot for me. I am at a place now where I am very happy with my work, but I also know where I want to be and so I am figuring out what it takes to get there.
2. Treat your clients like royalty
During my first retail job at 16, I was taught that the customer is always right. This was ingrained in me. I know this is a basic business principle, but it’s important to keep coming back to it. Without your clients, you don’t have a business.
So I made sure to keep my clients happy. I asked lots of questions about them and their family. I told them how beautiful they looked together. I made their kids laugh. I gushed about their photos. I kept in contact with them. If there was an issue, I worked with them until they were happy again. None of this was unnatural for me, but being sincerely kind and accomodating goes a long way with people.
Yes, I did have to draw boundaries. I know that I can’t please everyone and I don’t bend over backwards, but at least I can be courteous in the way that I handle even the most difficult situations.
The result? Clients who come back again and again and who rave about me to their friends. My entire business has been built on word-of-mouth, so it is imperative that I live up to those expectations.
Where do you need to focus?
I believe these two things are what held my business (and sanity) together when I had clients lining up at my door step. Right now I’m in the midst of moving my business to an entirely new location due to a family move and focusing on a new niche. I plan to work even harder in both of these areas and take it one step at a time, and I’m excited about what the result will be!
What about you? What things do you want to focus on this year, where you ‘learn a little and use it a lot?’ Leave a comment below and share!
Tanya is an Indiana Wedding Photographer who got her start in photography in Chicago, where she built her business around family and children’s portraits. She and her family of 4, soon to be 5, recently moved to rural Indiana where she intends to focus on wedding photography. She dreams of touring Israel to experience the setting of biblical events first-hand. Check out her blog and like her page on facebook for updates and recent work.
All images in this post taken by Tanya at Studio 63 Photography. Bio picture by Brisham Photography, 2011.